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Refugee News                       October 1997
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Bad times for refugees in Moscow More information
This year special festivities were held in Moscow to celebrate the 850th anniversary of the city's foundation. To prepare for these activities, the police were ordered to 'clear' the streets of the many 'undesirable' refugees that have entered the city to escape the many wars that have erupted since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 90's. 

Anyone who has visited Moscow is familiar with scenes very suggestive of racial discrimination. The dark colour of one's skin is enough reason for the police to stop him and ask for documents. Many of these people, coming from Central Asia or the Caucasus, were, up to a few years ago, Soviet citizens just like the people of Moscow but it is obvious that the locals have no sympathy with these people.

 Most of the 'strangers' living in Moscow have been forced to go there by circumstances. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) recognizes some 27,000 refugees in Moscow alone. Most of them are women in children often living in very bad conditions and sometimes without food. 

Some 9 million people have left their countries of origin in the former Soviet Union since 1989. In Russia alone there are more than a million recognized refugees and some 2 million others without the right papers or Russians who have escaped from neighbouring countries where they found themselves in a minority and often discriminated against.

 This phenomenon appeared in many countries. New leaders, usually not very sympathetic towards minorities, gained power - Gamsakhurdia in Georgia, Ardzinba in Abkhazia, Elchibey in Azerbaijan and Dudayev in Chechnya. The predominant races straightened their grip on the central governments and members of minority groups were forced to relocate. Armenians were forced out of Azerbaijan and Azeris had to leave Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Muslim Kurds escaped from Armenia and from the Lachin region in Azerbaijan. People originating in Georgia were kicked out of Abkhazia and South Ossetia while those of Abkhazian or Ossetian origin had to leave Georgia. Local Russians found that living in Chechnya became too dangerous and left, as did the Ingush of North Ossetia. To these one has to add thousands who were deported by Stalin and are now returning. 

Thousands of refugees escaped from Armenia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya because of past or present conflicts. Many had found themselves living in areas which had fallen to rival groups. They will be in danger of persecution, or even death, should they go back. 

Refugees in Moscow suffer because the law is against them, but also as a result of rampant police corruption. From the times of the Czars, people required the propiska, a sort of local passport, to be allowed to live in the city. It was a means of keeping the farmers on the fields. Stalin made use of it for the same reason. In 1993 , the propiska was declared unconstitutional but it was replaced by a system of registration which has the same effect.

 Obtaining this registration is very difficult even for those who have every right by law to have it. Without registration, one cannot rent a place, work or send the children to school. Whoever is found without the right documents is deported, unless they have enough money to bribe the police!

 In a recent report by Human Rights Watch (Helsinki), the Moscow police are accused of checking for registration documents only among coloured people. They are also said to carry out illegal arrests and searches, and torture. 

The local people show very little sympathy with refugees in Moscow. They see in them competition for jobs and flats. At the end of 1996, there were 240,000 refugees looking for accommodation in the Russian Federation.

  

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