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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Two Cities Take Steps To Restrict Migrants

The cities of Novy Urengoi and Magnitogorsk want to take a step back toward the closed city system of Soviet times by slapping restrictions on migrants, who they say are contributing to crime and proving to be a social burden.

Magnitogorsk lawmakers and the Mayor's Office appealed to the Chelyabinsk governor and the regional legislative assembly late last week to change the Urals city's status to that of a border zone.

About the same time, lawmakers in Novy Urengoi in the far northern Yamal-Nenets autonomous region asked the State Duma and the Federation Council to create a special zone around the city limiting migrants.

The appeals, which come less than a year after the northern Siberian city of Norilsk introduced its own restrictions on migrants, appear to be partly motivated by nostalgia for the Soviet-era closed cities whose populations were better off than elsewhere.

Magnitogorsk, established some 70 years ago and known as the capital of Urals metallurgy, has 400,000 people, while Novy Urengoi, founded in 1973 and dubbed the country's natural gas capital, has a population of 100,000.

Both cities denied that they wanted to slam the door shut on out-of-towners, saying they merely wanted to keep better tabs on who was working and paying taxes.

"No one is planning to close the city," a spokesman for the Magnitogorsk city government said by telephone Friday.

"We have asked that the city be considered as part of a border zone because we are very near to Kazakhstan and for that reason there should be more strict passport controls," said the spokesman, who declined to give his name.

The city does not want to forbid new arrivals but to control them through registration, he said.

"A transit route for drugs passes through our city -- there are really a lot of drugs and many illegal residents from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan who come seeking work and don't register themselves and don't pay taxes," he said.

He said the plan is only being considered and it could take another two years before any changes are implemented.

Novy Urengoi City Hall spokeswoman Olga Pavlenko said the city was trying to protect its workforce on a market with limited jobs.

"We are a single-industry town based on natural gas extraction and the labor market is limited," she said. "Therefore, people who come here looking for work won't be able to find any because we need only specialists with a very narrow range of skills and in the Far North you can't live without work."

Pavlenko added that Novy Urengoi had nothing against outside investors. "Our city will be open for business and for partnerships," she said.

Analysts said the high incomes in cities such as Novy Urengoi act as a magnet to many migrants from throughout the former Soviet Union. The problem, however, is not so much of illegal immigration but of people not being regulated, said Alexei Titkov, an expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

The federal policy on migration has not been clear since President Vladimir Putin put that matter under the control of the Interior Ministry, after first disbanding the Federal Migration Service and later the Nationalities Ministry, which had taken over the migration service's duties, he said. As such, "more and more local administrations are involving themselves in such initiatives."

He said that even though the Constitution and federal laws protect freedom of movement, local administrations and law enforcement officers can adopt restrictive measures that make life hard for migrants.

However, he added: "There is no organized system of dealing with illegal migration, and people from different government services in these cities are unlikely to do much better than their colleagues in other cities."