‘Migrant’s Guide’ Causes Controversy in St. Petersburg

A “migrant’s guide” to the city of St. Petersburg has provoked an outcry from rights activists who claim it depicts migrant workers in a negative light, although the migrants themselves had no problem with it.

The informational brochure for citizens from former Soviet republics who come to Russia’s second largest city looking for work was published in summer 2011 by a nonprofit organization that promotes social adaptation and prevention of HIV/AIDS among labor migrants from Central Asia.

It contains cartoons depicting migrant workers as tools with human faces: “a trowel, broom, paint roller and brush,” bloggers said.

Alexander Shishlov, human rights ombudsman for St. Petersburg, said the brochure sets residents against migrants and “is not conducive to tolerance.”

He conceded, however, that the information contained in it “is very useful.”

Gleb Panfilov, head of the East-West project that published the brochure, said the pictures were only designed to get the message across more effectively and should not be taken to represent migrant workers.

“They are a kind of ‘living aid,’ similar, for example, to using pictures of pens or staples in a textbook to draw attention to something,” he said.

Before its was published the brochure was shown to focus groups, including labor migrants from different ethnic and national backgrounds, and it did not receive “a single negative comment,” he said.

The St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office said it will look into the case.


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