Russia rounds up '1,500 Tajik migrants' in pilot row
Russia has detained 1,500 migrants from Tajikistan in an apparent tit-for-tat response to the jailing of a Russian pilot by the ex-Soviet state, a migrants' organisation said on Wednesday.
The detention of the migrants, ostensibly on the grounds of violating labour law, is part of an "asymmetric" response by Russia to Tajikistan's jailing of pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy for eight-and-half years, the press has said.
"In different regions of Russia, 1,500 people have been detained," the head of Russia's migrants federation Mukhammad Amin told the Interfax news agency, adding it was not clear if they faced deportation.
The authorities in Moscow last week detained almost 300 Tajik migrants and Tajikistan on Tuesday said an initial batch of 11 had already been sent home.
Russia's Federal Migration Service declined to confirm or deny the figure of 1,500. "One needs to take care with figures as behind them stand human beings," its head Konstantin Romodanovsky told Interfax.
The crackdown has coincided with a furious reaction from Russia to the harsh jail sentence handed to Sadovnichy and fellow pilot, Estonian Alexei Rudenko, by a provincial Tajik court on charges of smuggling contraband goods.
Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the crackdown, calling on Russia "to refrain from singling out any ethnic population for expulsion and ensure that any detentions and expulsions of foreigners have a legal basis."
In a possible sign that the impoverished Central Asian state wants to defuse the row, prosecutors from the Khatlon region in south Tajikistan where the verdict was delivered said this week that the sentence should be eased.
Tajikistan is the poorest country to emerge after the collapse of the Soviet Union with a per capita Gross National Income of just $800, according to the World Bank and hundreds of thousands have moved to Russia to earn a living.
According to the Russian migration service, there are 700,000 Tajiks living officially in Russia, a tenth of their home country's population of just under seven million.
Tens of thousands of Tajiks work on building sites and in communal services to Moscow. Their remittances home provide crucial income for the Tajik economy.
Russia's chief sanitary doctor Gennady Onishchenko this week even called for examining the possibility of a complete ban on Tajik migrants, who he said haboured illnesses including HIV and tuberculosis.
But Human Rights Watch pointed out that according to UNAIDS statistics, the HIV infection rate was far worse in Russia than in Tajikistan.
"Instead of putting in place effective HIV and tuberculosis programs that would reduce transmission and protect all Russians, the government is blaming migrants from Tajikistan," it said.
© 2011 AFP