Russia in desperate need of immigrants: official
Russia is losing the equivalent of a million workers every year because of its demographic crisis and is in desperate need of immigrants, the country's migration chief said Wednesday.
Federal migration service chief Konstantin Romodanovsky condemned widespread anti-immigrant rhetoric in Russia, where racism and hate crimes against immigrants have exploded since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
"We don't need this prattle over whether Russia needs or doesn't need immigrants. We need them like we need air," he said in an interview with state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
"Russia is losing a million workers every year," he said.
"If only Russians would remember that our courtyards and streets did not become as clean as they have ever been by magic," he said, in reference to immigrant labourers who often work in menial jobs.
Attempting to dispel the myth that immigrants are connected with crime, Romodanovsky also said that only 3.5 percent of crimes in Russia were committed by foreigners.
He estimated that there were five million illegal immigrants in Russia, mostly from former Soviet republics, and called for migration rules to be eased to make it simpler for migrants to enter and work in the country legally.
Russia's population fell precipitously after the Soviet collapse, from about 148 million in 1991 to some 142 million today, due to various factors including economic difficulties and high alcoholism rates.
The government has for years been seeking to reverse the decline, in particular through efforts to boost the birth rate, and is hoping to increase the population to 145 million by 2025.
The authorities have taken a range of measures to fight the population decline, including awarding medals of "parental glory" to parents of many children.
Russia's population increased slightly last year for the first time since 1995, thanks largely to increased migration to the country.
But experts are expecting further drops as Russia's young population declines due to low birth rates in the 1990s.
© 2010 AFP