Community Reps, Police Team Up to Fight Crime
Published: October 19, 2011 (Issue # 1679)
As the number of immigrants from the former U.S.S.R. grows, local representatives of diasporic communities are joining forces with the law in an effort to bring peace and order to the lives of struggling migrants.
According to official statistics, Russia has 10 million migrants, with St. Petersburg housing approximately 1 million of them. Hundreds of thousands of people from Central Asia, Ukraine and other nearby poverty-stricken regions flock to the city every year in the hope of a better life, but often find themselves miserable, living and working in marginal conditions, and even turning to a life of crime.
“Of course, if someone shares a room — or an attic or a basement, for that matter — with ten or so other people; if they do dangerous work without any insurance or adequate training; if they sneak into the country with fake permission like thieves, such a life leaves no room for respect for the law,” said Yelena Dunayeva, head of the local branch of the Federal Migration Service. “To reduce crime rates among immigrants, it is crucially important to efficiently combat illegal migration first, and make sure that all people who are employed in the city have their rights protected by the law.”
According to official statistics, foreign citizens are accountable for no more than 3 percent of the total number of crimes committed in St. Petersburg. Although 3 percent is a tiny fraction, the character of the crimes typically attracts a lot of attention, Dunayeva said.
“We have noticed that many local residents have a prejudice against migrant workers: A lot of St. Petersburgers tend to believe that immigrants are very corrupt and commit a lot of crimes,” Dunayeva said.
“This is because the sort of crimes that migrants commit often make a big splash — stabbings, rapes, drug dealing, violent physical assaults — thus creating an illusion that the migrant community in general is highly criminal.”
Another source of prejudice against migrant workers is police statistics, which say that migrants are responsible for half of all officially registered rape cases in the city. Many St. Petersburgers are also uncomfortable with the fact that most immigrants live in the city illegally. Data collected by the city’s human rights groups suggests that no more than 20 percent of migrant workers in St. Petersburg are here legally.
Arkady Kramarev, a United Russia lawmaker with the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly and former head of the city police, calls for developing a coherent strategy for combating crimes committed by migrants.
“City Hall invests a lot of money into all sorts of tolerance programs, but I would like to remind the authorities that tolerance should not border on humility and lamb-likeness,” he said.
Experts stress that when analyzing ethnic crime, it is important to distinguish between hate crimes and ordinary criminal incidents committed without an ethnic hatred motive.
“Here is one good example: Recently there was a violent fight between an ethnic Tajik and an ethnic Uzbek, which, on the surface, seemed to be a hate crime. However, after investigation, it turned out that one of the men owed the other money and the fight had a domestic, rather than ethnic motive,” said Sergei Uvarov, head of the operational investigations department of the city’s criminal police.
The police say there is a trend of ethnic criminal gangs attacking their own fellow nationals.
“It is not uncommon for Armenian or Azeri gangs to target ethnic Armenians or Azeris — in some cases, the victim and the criminal come from the same village,” Uvarov said. “Such ties actually make it complicated to solve crimes as the victim and the criminal may happen to have shared relatives who may pressure or threaten the lawyers and the investigation.”
So far in 2011, the local police have registered 594 crimes committed against foreigners, while 292 such crimes have been solved during the same period, Uvarov said. By comparison, foreign nationals have committed 1,341 crimes in the city and 1,805 crimes have been solved since the beginning of this year.
Alikhan Musayev, executive director of the Azeri National and Cultural Community in St. Petersbrug, said one of the core tasks for his organization has become the development of a coordinated anti-criminal policy together with local law enforcement.
“There are 400,000 Azeris living in the city — some have been here for decades, while some have just arrived — and from what I have seen, one of the most ailing issues is the lack of state control over the health of the newly arriving people,” Musayev said. “Things are so bad that I would even suggest arranging basic express health-checks at passport control points. Tuberculosis and other highly dangerous infections abound.”
The Investigative Committee of the General Prosecutor’s Office has recently suggested introducing greater fines for Russian companies caught employing illegal immigrants or violating migrant rights. One of the measures included stripping companies of their license.
Ravshanbek Kurbanov, a member of the council of elders of the Uzbek community in St. Petersburg, said that in order to help Uzbek migrants know and use their rights, the community has launched a newspaper.
“In the near future, we will start distributing the newspaper in Uzbekistan,” Kurbanov said. “Our people have to know what the risks are of being an illegal immigrant, which companies are reliable employers and where they can turn to for help.”