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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

50 Illegal Tajik Workers Pack Their Bags

MTA GAZel van pulling out of the construction site in Khimki on Monday as 50 illegal migrant workers from Tajikistan left for home ahead of their court-ordered deportation.
After a two-week wait to be deported, about 50 illegal migrant workers from Tajikistan boarded vans Monday in Khimki in the outskirts of Moscow for the 3,000-kilometer trek back home.

"We are sick and tired of waiting," said one Tajik, running with a large bag in his hand to squeeze into a 12-seat Gazel van at a construction site at 2 Ulitsa Melnikova, where he and the other migrants had helped build apartment blocks. There were about 20 men crammed into the van.

"They promised to fly us to Dushanbe last week, but the plan didn't work," said the Tajik, who refused to give his name. "How much longer should we wait here? There has been no work for us for almost a month."

The Tajiks are among a group of 208 Tajiks who were rounded up in the Moscow region for the country's first large-scale deportation since a new law on foreigners came into force Oct. 31. The case is being closely watched by the city of Moscow and other regions as a litmus test of the new system.

As suggested by the disgruntled Tajiks who hopped into private vans Monday, the expulsion plan has encountered a few hiccups.

The Moscow region had planned to put the Tajiks on a military plane that left from the Chkalovsky military airport for Dushanbe on Thursday. But the plane was full.

"All 208 Tajiks who must fly back will get seats on a plane leaving on the night of Nov. 21-22," Lieutenant Colonel Tamara Ushakova, the head of the Khimki passport and visa department, or PVU, said in an interview Monday.

The Moscow region, which has earmarked 1.5 million rubles ($47,000) for the extradition, will help pay for the flight, she said.

The Tajiks were among 500 illegal foreigners -- including Uzbeks, Moldovans, Ukrainians and Belarussians -- detained at the end of October in a sweep for those living without proper registration in the region, Ushakova said.

"The Tajiks were the single largest group in the operation, and that was why the decision was made to extradite them," she said.

To be extradited, immigration officials needed a court ruling to that effect. A regional court issued a ruling singling out the Tajiks earlier this month.

Ushakova said she could not say whether other nationalities will be targeted soon.

The 50 Tajiks pulled out of Khimki at about 4 p.m., waving goodbye to former co-workers from Uzbekistan and Moldova who came to see then off.

One of them, Makhmud, an Uzbek who earned $20 per month as a police officer at home, refused to say whether he was legally registered to live and work in the region.

"It is really good to have a chance to work in Moscow; I have been paid $400 since I arrived in August," he said. "I have to feed my family, and the Tajiks are just as poor."

Sangin Kadyrov, a urologist who was also supposed to take the flight home later this week, was quoted by Izvestia on Saturday as saying he earned only $2 per month in Dushanbe, far from enough to feed himself, his wife and their seven sons.

Ushakova said most of the Tajiks came to the region on the invitation of phony firms that "promise good living conditions, salaries and, of course, registration."

"But after they unload the newcomers in Moscow, they vanish," she said. "The people have to live in terrible conditions and work for salaries that Muscovites would not take."

If caught with illegal foreigners, an employer has to pay a fine of only 500 rubles.

A Khimki police source said construction firms, which attract much of the cheap illegal labor, have good ties with the local authorities and rarely have had any trouble.

Ushakova said illegal workers undermine the region's labor market. "They reduce the cost of labor, and our construction workers cannot find proper paying jobs," she said. "I understand them, and I feel sorry for these people, but we also have our own problems."

She said regional sweeps for illegal foreigners were netting about 40 people per day.

But it remains unclear what should be done with the migrants.

"The extradition situation is very complex and tangled," Khimki police spokesman Roman Babayan said.

"I can understand why these people don't believe they will be flown home later this week," he said. "We told them that there will be a plane. Perhaps they did not understand.

"This is the first time we have tried to extradite such a large group of people, and in Russia we always have problems the first time around."

Babayan said he thought many of the Tajiks would return in the spring.

It could not be verified Monday whether the 50 Tajiks who said they were leaving Khimki for Tajikistan on Monday were actually headed home.

And there are no legal mechanisms to enforce the court order having them deported, Ushakova said. Furthermore, she said, it remains unclear which state body is in charge of extradition and who must pay the bill.

She suggested that the Interior Ministry's migration service be put in charge.

However, a source in the Moscow region's migration service said Monday that the service "does not deal with illegal migration."

"Speak with the PVU," the official said.

Meanwhile, passport and visa departments were supposed to start issuing migration cards to all foreigners Monday. The cards, which foreigners will be required to carry at all times, contain information such as name, purpose of visit and duration of visit.

"Believe me or not, I haven't seen any single document about issuing these cards," Ushakova said. "People come here asking for them, and we can only shrug our shoulders."