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Russia's Unpopular but “Necessary” Illegal Immigrant Camps

At the end of July, Moscow oblast's Acting Governor proposed [ru] the establishment of a detention center for illegal immigrants on a former military base near Yegoryevsky. The cost of renovations to repurpose the property is estimated to be 200 million rubles (over $6 million). Not surprisingly, local residents were less than pleased with the idea, prompting the district's chief, Mikhail Lavrov, to suggest that a referendum on the subject, held on September 22, should decide whether or not Yegoryevsky hosts the camp.

While Lavrov said he personally opposed [ru] the proposed detention center, he supported the idea of an online poll to gauge  constituents’ feelings on the subject. The district government's website soon posted a yes-or-no survey [ru], asking the public: “Do you agree to the placement of a special camp for illegal migrants in the Yegoryevsky municipal area?”

A scene from inside one of Moscow's recent makeshift illegal immigrant detention centers, 2 August 2013, screen capture from YouTube.

A scene from inside one of Moscow's recent makeshift illegal immigrant detention centers, 2 August 2013, screen capture from YouTube.

While previous polls [ru] on the website generated an average of less than 100 responses, approximately 10,000 people voted on the detention center question in the poll's first 24 hours. In this period, more than 99% of the respondents—9,000 of 9,001—opposed hosting such a camp.

Moreover, the local Public Chamber wrote a letter to Moscow oblast's Acting Governor, noting that the municipality already accommodates a jail, a psychiatric hospital, two psycho-neurological boarding schools, and an orphanage.

Later, in an interview with the radio station Echo of Moscow, Lavrov tried to clarify the situation, explaining [ru] the popular backlash to building the camp as the result of confusion about the plan's details.

In a comment on Echo of Moscow’s website, one reader joked:

Жители Егорьевского района против лагеря мигрантов, потому что все жители высказали свое желание о предоставлении своего жилья все приезжим мигрантам! Добро пожаловать в Россию!

The residents of the Yegoryevsky region are against migrant camps, because all the residents have expressed their desire to provide their own housing to all visiting workers! Welcome to Russia!

Meanwhile, the chief of the local electoral commission announced [ru] that a referendum on the subject was unnecessary, and Lavrov promptly backed down [ru], closing the online poll and canceling plans for a ballot measure. The elections commission declared simply:

Если все будут отказываться — где размещать лагеря для мигрантов? А это надо делать….

If everyone refuses, where can we put the camp for migrants?  It's something that needs to be done….

On August 28, it was reported [ru] that Moscow oblast plans to have four such migrant detention centers by 2016, with at least one of these camps almost certain to appear at Yegoryevsky's former military base.

The head of Russia's Federal Migration Service in the Moscow, Oleg Molodievsky, added:

В течение месяца мы проинформируем жителей района, что за учреждение, в каком виде оно будет, какое количество мигрантов там будет находиться, и как они будут доставляться, после этого жители выскажут свое мнение, нужен этот центр или не нужен.

Within a month, we will inform the district's residents about the [camp's] establishment, explain its details, specify how many migrants will be located there, and how they will be transported, after which residents will express their opinion, about whether or not this center is needed.

Molodievsky also tried to calm locals’ fears about incarcerating more criminals nearby, elaborating:

Это те же граждане, которые ходят между нас, они перемещаются на территории области и Москвы, это не преступники ни в коем случае. Нам лучше надо разъяснять населению, что это за центры.

These are the same folks who walk among us. They move into the oblast and the city, [but] these are not criminals in any sense of the word. We need to do a better job explaining to the public what these centers.

The public outreach campaign, however, could be an uphill battle. Commenting on Molodievsky's statement, one reader remarked cynically:

Замечательно, за наш счет (налогоплательщиков) еще будем строить, отапливать, содержать и кормить. Может деньги пустить на пенсии или в школах/детсадах на завтраки детям? Или на укрепление наших границ, что бы нелегальных мигрантов становилось меньше, а ехали к нам высокообразованные иностранцы, готовые работать за 15 тыс рублей?

Wonderful, at our expense (the taxpayers) we will also build, heat, maintain, and feed [the migrants]. Can't money be spent on pensions or schools and kindergartens for children’s breakfasts? Or to strengthen our borders, so that illegal immigrants are fewer, and highly educated foreigners willing to work for 15 thousand rubles come instead?

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