Bread with mayonnaise, a bed and work seven days a week – who are Russian immigrants

“In the suburban schools for focus groups, we asked high school students who came to Russia at school age from other countries. Led the Chechens, Dagestanis, once brought a girl who is brought up in a Russian family, had never been abroad and never saw their dad is Vietnamese. It identified in the category of “migrant children” just because she’s not like “Russian” Teens, she is “other””. Culturologist, head of the Centre for qualitative research Institute for social policy, HSE Catherine Dementeva – why we fear the immigrant “ghetto”, but don’t even know who these migrants.


Photo: Sputnik / Ilya Pitalev

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“There is a stereotype that migrants have to live in South Butovo”

– We are confronted with migrants every day in stores behind the counter, in the subway, but know very little about their lives. What does it represent?

– I asked myself the same question in 2013, when we began research aimed at understanding how labor migrants live in Moscow. I conducted research among migrants and people from a migrant background in France. In Europe is clear: if you want to know how and what migrants live, for example, in Paris and its suburbs, it is necessary to go out of town, in the social quarters, so-called “ghetto”. But where to look for migrants in Moscow? Here you would be in what area to go?

For example, in southern Butovo.

– Yes, in our society there are stereotypes that somewhere in the South of Moscow, in Yuzhnoye Butovo or in Kuzminki, to live workers. But we, as scientists, decided to get away from these submissions and have chosen to examine four different in their socio-demographic characteristics of the district on the North, West, East and South of Moscow. In all four districts, we were easily able to find migrant workers and living conditions for this category of residents in them was about the same. We should mention that in this study, we looked mainly at how living in Moscow, labor migrants from Central Asian countries. As they are in the eyes of the local population are the ones “migrants”.

Our research then showed that migrant workers in Russia do not settle in certain parts of their communities. They try to find housing closer to their place of work, not to spend money on travel, not to face once again with the police. We saw that in Moscow, migrant workers live everywhere.

We set out to find the migrants ‘ places in Moscow. And saw that often migrant workers are going to meet with friends in KFC or food court of a Moscow shopping centers.

Catherine Dementeva. Photo:

– So you didn’t see “ghetto”, but found “migrant places”?

– Let’s decide what a “ghetto”. In European countries it is not primarily ethnic, and socially homogeneous areas. It’s the area of social housing that were built in Europe in the postwar years, for those who could not afford to buy an apartment. This is quarters for the poor. Since the last decade in Europe the main category of the poor are migrants and people from a migrant background, most of it they live in these areas.

The Soviet approach to building cities and settling in it the inhabitants assumed the mixing of social classes. This heritage makes itself felt still. In Moscow, there is a socially homogeneous areas, poor, uncomfortable housing can be found in any quarter of the city apartments in older buildings, communal apartments, renovation of apartments in new buildings. In Moscow, the migrants can find affordable housing in any area of the city. We asked the migrants from Central Asia call the place where they live and their friends and relatives. They called, in particular, the areas of red Presnya, the Taganka, Bauman, because there too old five-storey buildings and communal apartments. The study showed that in Moscow there is no “ghetto”.

– And quickly constructed housing complexes on the outskirts of Moscow “Sochi”? The media write that they have hardly the “ghetto”.

– These few blocks is hardly a “ghetto”, and, most likely, they never will. Because we’re not talking about the social quarters. All that construction around Moscow is commercial housing. This apartment, which you should buy or rent, can be a little cheaper, than in Moscow, but in any case, this requires money. In these new areas there is no such problems faced by the residents of the “ghetto” – unemployment, crime, social exclusion. On the contrary, they are active, often young people included in the life of the city.

– What does it mean for Moscow the lack of “ghetto”? Migrants can better integrate into Russian society?

– Yes, of course. This means that migrants live in the same place where the other citizens, enjoy the same urban infrastructure. Their children attend the same school as local children. This means that migrants do not become isolated in your community, integrate faster into society. The current situation with the resettlement of migrants in Russian cities is much better than the European. And in any case it is impossible to create separate quarters for the immigrants, or some other categories of citizens.

“In Russia, migrants are totally powerless”

– How many now on the territory of Russia is home to migrants?

– There are statistics of the Ministry of interior, Rosstat, but expert estimates are often different from the official one. Talking about 10-12 million migrants in Russia, but I stress that this is approximate figures. You have to understand that “migrants” – and the students who come to the country for training, and professionals working in high positions in corporations. However, most often our idea of “migrants” come from countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, working in the construction markets in the service sector. “Migrant” is “other”, “alien”, not like us.

– In the domestic sense, the migrant is “Tajik”. We are even in the language we use these words as synonyms. And who really is more?

– If we are talking about migrants from Central Asia, the Uzbeks more, but because of the policies of their countries, they often hide that they were going into exile. Now the situation is little better, and even at home before, they said just go to Tashkent. Therefore, the Uzbeks are not as strong community as the Kyrgyz and Tajiks are creating their infrastructure: festivals, cultural centers, kindergartens.

Of great importance, visible or invisible migration. Ukrainians, for example, a lot, and we do not even believe, because they sort of “own”.

Here is an interesting example. We conducted a study aimed at understanding how the children of migrants to adapt to Russian schools. To participate in the focus groups, we asked principals and teachers of schools to give high school students who came to Russia at school age from other countries. Led the Chechens, Dagestanis, once brought a girl who is brought up in a Russian family, had never been abroad and never saw their dad is Vietnamese. It identified in the category of “migrant children” just because she’s not like “Russian” Teens, she is “other”.

– How to live in the poorest migrants? In the information space is full of scary stories about the fact that in one apartment can live 50 people…

– 50 can’t, but, as we have seen, usually in the room settle 5-7 people. A migrant comes to the city, he had no money, friends, and migrants themselves, give him a bed, it is often any mattress. It so happens that one sleep in the day and works nights and the other on this place sleeps at night. Men and women can live in one room.


Those who live in such conditions, very poor nutrition. When we see in the shops that the workers buy bread and mayonnaise is their real food. Of course, they undermine health in poor nutrition and stress, because they live in terrible conditions.

Whether Russia is an attractive country for migrants?

– The majority of migrants come to Russia from CIS countries. In the first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union many were here personal networks: relatives, friends. Migrants often go to work where there are those who will help them with jobs, housing. Therefore, in Russia there are such large flows from Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine and Moldova.

Not to say that Russia attractive for migrants. In Russia it is difficult to obtain a residence permit, citizenship. Patent work is pretty expensive (approx. ed: the price of a patent in Moscow 4500 roubles per month), and in order to be valid, we need more contract with the employer, which is often for various reasons do not want to register: some are afraid of taxes, it is wrong to register the foreigner, the penalty for improper registration of the foreigner. And why do it at all, if you can do.

Many migrants do not know their rights, and do not want to join any relations with the authorities or employers, so either buy the missing documents, or working without registration at your own risk.

Recently I was talking to one of the Kyrgyz and Kyrgyzstan is now in the Eurasian economic Union, so they can get a job as Russian citizens. I asked for the contract whether it is. It turned out, the supervisor told her not to make it official, because of foreigners in Russia it is impossible to hire private firms.

In addition, in Russia there are no benefits for migrants. Medical assistance paid, even if there are some free services that migrants often face discrimination from employees of social organizations. Therefore, only if a migrant in Russia have a job, he can stay here. If something happens to it, it must go back.

Migrants have become closer to us

– A new wave of immigrants – people who practically do not know Russian language. What she brings?

Over the last ten years migration has really changed. First of all, changed their social status: people come not from cities, because everyone who wanted already left, and of the villages, but even in the Soviet period in the villages of Central Asian countries, not all spoke Russian.

I don’t see a big problem that the majority of migrants do not speak Russian. There is only one burden on the state associated with not knowing the language is the introduction in some schools additional subject “Russian language for foreigners” for children who move to Russia and speak Russian. To demand from foreigners who work as builders or janitors, so they passed the “Russian TOEFL”, is pointless because, most likely, they will earn money and leave. Those migrants who want to stay, try to learn the language. Perhaps we should help them in this opening language courses or supporting NGOs working with this category of urban residents.

– There is a stereotype that migrants are criminals. We see these people constantly checking in metro. It is a necessary measure?

– Indeed, there are frightening statistics. My colleagues have analyzed it and found that actually a large percentage of what are called “crimes” are offences: stopped him, and he doesn’t have the paperwork, he crossed the road at a red light and so on.

Most migrants work from morning till night for 12-14 hours a week to save up for a house at home or on the car. What kind of crime is it if they simply lack the time to commit?

– Does the traditionally negative attitude of Russians towards migrants in recent years?

– I had to find articles in popular Russian media, which would be bad wrote about migrants, and I was surprised to find that they became less xenophobic and frankly not at all.

The migrants themselves say that 10 years ago was over-the-top hostility, was able to curse on the bus, in the subway. Now it became less.

On the one hand, migration has changed, it has become less Russian-speaking, migrants entered our house: nannies, cleaners, AU pairs. By the way, female migrants sometimes easier to find work than men. We communicate well with them, we give them a box of chocolates for the holidays because they are cute, good, have become very cute.

– What is the migration forecast for the next few years?

– Traditional flows from the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus will slowly decline. First, in the 1990s – early 2000s in Russia there was a big stream of “compatriots”. He exhausted himself. Everyone who wanted a quarter of a century he moved to Russia. Secondly, the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, and especially Ukraine and Moldova, there are more attractive destinations for migration. For Central Asia is the Arab and Asian countries, for our Western neighbors is Europe. Under the current migration policy in which it is difficult to be legalized in the country, I believe that part of migrants, which we might expect in the coming years, will change the direction of migration. Barring a military conflict, such as was the case with Ukraine, when Russia, a flood of refugees from the Donbass, the flow will not increase, and may even predict its decline.

The question is, at what point we’re running out of this cheap labour and any new streams will choose to let to him, because the migration needs Russia. Here it is difficult to predict.

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