Earlier this month, Russian State Radio’s Vesti FM published on its website a map with the title “Illegal Aliens,” marking neighborhoods with supposedly dense populations of undocumented migrants in Moscow. For nearly two weeks, the station has been urging Muscovites to update the map in order to expose “the migrant underground.” Vesti FM’s site states that the map is based on reader comments, “raids” by their correspondents, and official data. “Moscow has been attacked by illegal aliens…” is just one of the headlines on the station’s website promoting the map.
An aggressive campaign against migrants, and especially migrant workers, has been under way for months in Russia. Police engage in ethnic profiling in Moscow and Sochi – the site of the 2014 winter Olympics – and other cities with large populations of migrant workers. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are arbitrarily detained, often based on nothing more than their non-Slavic appearance. Some are treated poorly, held in inhuman conditions, and denied access to legal counsel. Many are then deported, based on rubber-stamp court rulings and often without getting paid for their work.
Xenophobic rhetoric in Russia’s media isn’t new, but the amount is now staggering, and comments by high-level officials are shocking. In September, the head of Russia’s Federal Migration Service accused migrants of “irritating” Muscovites by being too visible. During his recent meeting with President Putin, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin promised that all housing in Moscow would be inspected for irregular migrants.
Vesti-FM published its map after a Muscovite was killed, allegedly by a non-Slavic perpetrator. Soon after the killing, a mob attacked a wholesale vegetable market where many traders and handymen come from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Instead of acting to protect the migrants, Moscow police began rounding them up, supposedly for their own safety.
Civil society activists have called for VestiFM’s to shut down its map project, calling it an open invitation for violence. The governmental radio station argued that it didn’t call for violence and the map merely highlights neighborhoods, not addresses. While that’s technically true, several online comments provide exact addresses where irregular migrants allegedly reside. Vesti FM has not removed that data.
Unsurprisingly, the number of attacks on people who look distinctly non-Slavic is on the rise in Russia’s large cities: SOVA, a Russian group that monitors xenophobic violence, found a 40 percent increase in the number of violent attacks and killing in the past three months compared to May-July of this year.
State officials should have publicly condemned the attacks, and bring those responsible to justice. They have failed to do so. This cannot but contribute to a threatening climate. It could even inspire future attackers, giving them a sense of false legitimacy.