Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ethnic Refugees Filling Labor Gap

KALININGRAD, Russia -- A nine-person family crammed in one small room with three beds may seem like dire living conditions. But it is the first place that the Maksuda family has been able to call home, since fleeing Tajikistan two months ago.

Natasha Maksuda's husband was killed six months ago in fighting in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe. Shortly afterward, she said, her children were thrown out of school, her mother's grave was desecrated and she was

unable to buy bread or other necessities -- just because she was of Russian descent.

"One day I understood I had to move in any way possible", she said. "There was no normal life. I lost everything".

Over the last six months, Russia has become a magnet for those like the Maksuda family seeking safety from

civil strife and virulent nationalistic actions in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The ethnic fighting that has flared over the last year in many former Soviet republics has led hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russian refugees to seek residence in Russia.

The Russian government is taking advantage of this new breed of refugees to try to resettle them in areas where labor shortages exist.

President Boris Yeltsin created the Russian Federal Migration Service last June to assist the refugees.

Yeltsin allocated 3 billion rubles to the new department for the last six months of 1992, said Sergei Sontsev, the migration service's acting press secretary. The 20-billion ruble allocation for 1993 is now in question because of last week's change of government.

The migration service has created two categories of people flocking to Russia. Refugees, who officially number 460, 000, are those leaving life-threatening situations in conflict areas such as Abkhazia, Tajikistan and North Ossetia. Migrants, who officially number 700, 000, are individuals who feel persecuted but do not face death.

Leonid Stonov, an official of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews that is monitoring human rights abuses in Central Asia, said the total number of refugees is far higher than the government statistics because many refugees with Russian families or friends are bypassing official steps.

In an effort to discourage refugees from flocking to urban areas, the Russian migration service provides a stipend of 900 rubles to families in cities and 1, 800 rubles to those in villages before resettling the families. Refugees accepting government assistance are not allowed to make their new homes in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

The government provides 15-year, 300, 000-ruble loans to help families get settled. Unlike most refugees, who are often a drain on the economy, the government regards this new wave as a potential boon.

"Most of these people are Russian and workers with high qualifications", said Sontsev. "They are ready to give the Russian economy a hand. It is our idea that if we help them, then they will help us".

Not all resident Russians feel that way and there have been some incidents.

"Refugees are often not welcome with the local population", said Benedicte Berner of the International Red Cross. "It's not racism, because many of these people are Russian. It's the scarcity of jobs, housing and health care".

The Maksuda family, now temporarily housed in Kaliningrad, lived for six weeks in hotels, overcrowded apartments and railway stations before a police officer told them about the migration service.

The Maksuda's way station consists of a room in a dacha on the ground of the Bolshevo rest home in Kaliningrad. They have yet to receive any money, but were promised permanent housing and a construction job in Mozhaisk, 120 kilometers outside Moscow by next week. For now, they are still living hand to mouth. Although they have only 500 rubles left, Maksuda said her family is better off.

"I am finally able to see my future", she said. "After getting this place, I know I will receive a job and a life and will not die of hunger".