MINELRES: IWPR Caucasus Reporting Service: Russian authorities crack down on migrants from the Caucasus

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Sat Nov 23 10:02:02 2002


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WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 155, November 14,
2002.

CAUCASUS NEWS UPDATE NOVEMBER 14

MOSCOW GETS TOUGH ON CAUCASIAN MIGRANTS
In the wake of the Moscow hostage-taking tragedy, the Russian
authorities are cracking down on migrants from the Caucasus.
By Rusudan Nikuradze in Moscow

GEORGIAN REFORMER'S TBILISI BATTLE
Mikheil Saakishvili has won his battle to lead Tbilisi city council -
but a fellow Georgian reformer may have benefited most from the
struggle.
By Jaba Devdariani in Tbilisi

NEW BLOW FOR PROBING AZERI JOURNAL
Government renews campaign against opposition magazine with reputation
for exposing official corruption.
By Einulla Fatullayev in Baku

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CAUCASUS NEWS UPDATE NOVEMBER 14

.................


MOSCOW GETS TOUGH ON CAUCASIAN MIGRANTS

In the wake of the Moscow hostage-taking tragedy, the Russian
authorities are cracking down on migrants from the Caucasus.

By Rusudan Nikuradze in Moscow

"Every non-Russian in Moscow is a target," said Solomon Khukhashvili,
75, a Tbilisi resident, who fears his grandson, a student at the Russian
Academy of Economics, might become a casualty of a nationalist backlash
against Caucasians following the recent theatre tragedy.

Khukhashvili is trying to persuade his grandson to give up his
prestigious Moscow school and come back to the Georgian capital with his
family, and continue his education there.

Migrants from the Caucasus, particularly Azerbaijan, have come under
increasing threat from nationalist thugs in Moscow and its environs in
the past two weeks.

On October 31, a group of Azerbaijanis were attacked and badly beaten
during a police operation in Khlebnikovo near Moscow. One of them,
Gasyam Ajarli, a 21-year-old man from the Shamkir region, died later in
hospital from his injuries.

A Russian government source told IWPR that the incident was one of the
topics of discussion between the first deputy prime minister of
Azerbaijan Abbas Abbasov and his Russian counterpart during the former's
recent trip to Moscow.

In another incident, Islam Orujev, a trader at one of Moscow' markets,
was kidnapped earlier this month by an unknown group and released on
November 10.

The hostage's brother Makhabbat Orujev, a reporter for the Baku-based
newspaper 525, told IWPR that Islam had been kidnapped not by criminals,
but by the police, who demanded a ransom of 16,000 US dollars for their
hostage. "It looks like the Nord-Ost siege has turned the Moscow police
on to a rather lucrative business: kidnapping for ransom," he said.

According to unofficial statistics, there could be as many as two
million migrants from the North and South Caucasus in Moscow. Living and
working here illegally, most of them are completely disenfranchised and
underprivileged.

Russia's Federal Migration Service entitles a quota of 530,000
foreigners to legal employment in the country, but analysts say there
are twice or three times as many non-Russian CIS citizens in Moscow
alone.

Many Caucasian migrants in the capital were alarmed by some of the
provisions of the Russian Citizenship Act, which took effect July 1, and
the Act on the Legal Status of Foreign Nationals, which became law on
November 1.

Under the new migration rules, foreigners entering the country will be
issued a "migration card" which will enable the authorities to track all
their movements.

Human rights activists have noted that the new law effectively repeals
all the migration privileges formerly granted to CIS nationals. While no
entry visas are required, the new financial and bureaucratic hurdles are
no less stringent.

A prominent human rights organization, the Committee for Citizen
Facilitation, has also highlighted the fact that most of Moscow's
Azerbaijani markets - one of the main sources of fruit and vegetables in
the Russian capital - have been closed since November 1.

"Officially, the move was supposed to combat terrorism, but it's common
knowledge that 90 per cent of Azerbaijanis at the markets were just
traders without any terrorist connections whatsoever," said Svetlana
Gannushkina, head of the committee.

"All foreign nationals employed in Russia are now required to register
and pay a duty of 100 US dollars every quarter. Failure to do so results
in a fine of 20,000 roubles (approximately 630 US dollars)," Azer
Allakhverenov, coordinator of the Migration Resource Centre, told IWPR.

"This way, Azerbaijani citizens temporarily living in Russia will be
making the Russian government 10 to 12 billion US dollars richer every
year. Only about 10 per cent of Moscow guest workers' earnings will go
back to their families back home."

In the meantime, the Russian parliament is considering further
restrictions on foreign migrants, including a set of draft amendments to
the Terrorism Act that promise to restrict the powers of democratic
institutions.

Amongst other things, the draft law forbids the paying of ransoms, the
exchange of imprisoned extremists for hostages, or the promising of
freedom to hostage-takers in exchange for the release of hostages.

"All Caucasian nationals in Moscow are worried that these new
legislative initiatives may fuel inter-ethnic hatred in the Russian
capital," said one prominent Caucasian, Ashot Airapetian. "During the
siege and immediately after, people like me - those with large noses and
black hair - knew better than to leave their homes."

Hours after the Moscow siege ended, deputy interior minister Alexander
Chakalin told the press Russian law-enforcement authorities would not
target Caucasians. "The interior ministry will not tolerate ethnic
persecution," he said, "We have sufficient resources not to let that
happen."

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said that he had warned all police
chiefs they would be held personally responsible if found to be
propagating anti-Chechen sentiment.

At the same time, rights activists point out that several hundred
Chechens were arrested in Moscow in the wake of the Nord-Ost siege.

The crackdown has alarmed all Chechens. One of the first to fall prey to
the backlash was Abdula Khamzaev, a well-known lawyer and former
investigator with the prosecutor's office in Moscow. Policemen searched
his apartment and made him write a statement explaining why he had moved
to Moscow, what his family members do, and what kind of people visit
him.

The lawyer declined to give his fingerprints and would not let the
policemen photograph him. Khamzaev, who has lived in Moscow for the last
40 years, said he was stunned by his treatment.

"All the terror attacks in Moscow stem from the ongoing war in
Chechnya," said renowned economist Ruslan Khasbulatov, a former speaker
of the Russian parliament. "I am sure that the whole North Caucasus will
explode in a year's time after some Chechen suicide bomber tries to do
to the Kremlin what (al-Qaeda did) in America. This will definitely
happen unless Putin comes to his senses and negotiates."

Sources at the Committee for Civil Facilitation argue that Russian law
enforcement authorities have been too harsh on Caucasian migrants since
the Moscow siege. On November 11, it issued a statement denouncing
Moscow's police actions and urged the authorities to establish a human
rights watch body to monitor incidents of ethnic hatred in the city.

Rusudan Nikuradze is correspondent for the Georgian newspaper 24 Hours
in Moscow.

..................

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