Russia: Police arrest 1,600 migrants after riots

Migrant workers, most of them Muslims, are lined up by police after the raid. Picture: AP
Migrant workers, most of them Muslims, are lined up by police after the raid. Picture: AP
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Russian police have rounded up more than 1,600 migrants after rioting swept through a southern neighbourhood of the capital following the fatal stabbing of a local man.

An advocacy group warned migrants from the mainly Muslim Caucasus and Central Asia that they were at increased risk of being attacked after the worst rioting in Moscow in three years.

Residents blamed a migrant from the Caucasus for the stabbing. Some 1,200 people were yesterday detained at a wholesale vegetable market after it was stormed on Sunday night by local protesters following the stabbing, police spokesman Alexei Shapkin said.

Another 450 were detained in north-east Moscow, also near a vegetable market employing migrants.

Police said they were all detained to check whether they were involved in any wrong­doing, but they have not been accused of any specific crime. Footage showed detainees standing against walls or lined up in front of camouflage-clad police.

By rounding up migrants, authorities seemed to be trying to appease residents who had taken to the streets of the Biryulyovo district to demand ­police find the killer of Yegor Shcherbakov, 25, and act to prevent crimes by migrants.

Migrant labour has played a significant role in Russia’s transformation during an oil-fuelled boom that took off around the time president Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

But many in Moscow are uneasy at the influx of migrants from the mainly Muslim North Caucasus and ex-Soviet states of the Caucasus and Central Asia, although many do low-paying jobs, such as in construction, that few local residents want. On Sunday, the mob in the southern neighbourhood fought with police, smashed shops and street stalls and stormed the vegetable market, targeting sites employing migrants.

Police arrested at least 380 people as they struggled to quell the violence, which left several people, including officers, injured and shone a spotlight on tension between ethnic Russians and Muslim incomers.

Russian authorities frequently carry out raids detaining illegal immigrants but critics say efforts are undermined by police corruption.

“We must learn to live together… and counteract rampant corruption and related attempts to break up our country by exploiting ethnic problems,” human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, told state TV.

A group that lobbies for economic migrants in Russia warned of an increased risk of ethnic violence in Moscow.

“The nationalists are pursuing their political goals. This is clearly very dangerous. We are warning migrants to be careful for now in crowded areas and on public transportation,” said Mukhamad Amin, head of the Federation of Migrants of Russia.

The rioting came before Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holiday that most Russian Muslims begin celebrating today. In Moscow, ethnic tension is often higher during such holidays because large numbers of Muslims gather at the city’s few mosques.

Mr Putin has frequently warned of the dangers of ethnic and religious violence in multicultural Russia, which is mostly Slavic and Orthodox Christian but has a large Muslim minority.

He said this month Russia needed migrant labourers in industries such as construction but, in a nod to anti-migrant sentiment, suggested numbers could be restricted in trade.

He also suggested the Kremlin would resist calls to establish visa arrangements with several former Soviet republics, indicating this would undermine reintegration efforts that he has made a personal priority in a third presidential term.