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What was intended to be a friendly guide for labour migrants to Russia, has instead been taken as an insult. The brochure gives practical advice on dealing with authorities, such as guards and police, but workers have taken exception to the fact that the booklet represents them as work tools.
The book was published by an NGO and distributed in the Russian, Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Tajik languages.
Alexander Shishlov the Human Rights Ombudsman in St. Petersburg said: “When migrant workers who come here from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other countries are portrayed as spatulas, brushes and other tools, while all the other characters in the brochure are portrayed as people, this clearly sets people who live here against those who are visitors. And this comparison is insulting to a large degree.”
The government of Tajikistan has formally asked Russian authorities to withdraw the handbook, but despite the book having been promoted on a Russian government website, authorities have denied any connection with its publication.
Gleb Panfilov, deputy head of the Look into the Future group that published the guide in St Petersburg said he could not understand the sudden public outrage, many months after its release. He claims to have consulted workers from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan while putting the book together aiming “to help labour migrants learn about their rights and avoid getting into trouble in this city”.
Activists say the book is another example of discrimination against the impoverished, mostly Muslim migrants who move to Russia and take on low-skilled work. The immigrants, many of whom have dark skins, have been the targets of hate crime in recent years.
This reached a peak in 2008 when 115 immigrants were killed and nearly 500 wounded, according to an independent watchdog. A police crackdown on neo-Nazi groups has helped to reduce racially motivated crimes, but numbers are said to be still high.