Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis, experts predict a new wave of the forced labor slavery in Russia.
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According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, there are 794,000 people living in the modern slavery in Russia. The country ranks 64 th in the world in terms of the number of modern slavery victims. These are mainly labor migrants from Central Asian countries. They work in construction, utility services and the sex industry.
However, according to the lawyer of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (national trade union association – Ed.) Oleg Babich, even these figures are understated for Russia.
“To be honest, there are more people living in modern slavery in the country, we just know little about them. Many simply do not get in touch, they are afraid for their lives. Many illegal migrants are put into modern slavery. In Russia, there are one and a half million illegal migrants, most of them, 60%, can be considered slaves,” Babich notes.
Oleg Melnikov is the founder and leader of the Russian “Alternative” volunteer movement against modern slavery. For nine years, he and his team were searching for and freeing people who found themselves in modern slavery. According to him, they freed about 20 thousand Central Asians from slavery.
“In 2011, one of my acquaintances asked me for help saving his relative who was in modern slavery in Dagestan. I could not refuse. We managed to free five people in Dagestan who were in modern slavery: two girls and three men. After that, I decided to help people,” says Melnikov.
According to him, they receive many calls with help requests, but they cannot help everyone: there is not enough people and funds. He finances 95% of activities by himself; the rest is financed through the donations.
“Many people find themselves in the modern slavery in Russia; they are mostly citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan. There are a lot of girls from Kazakhstan who were deceived and taken abroad, this is mainly Bahrain, the UAE, where they are forced to engage in prostitution,” Melnikov said.
On December 28, 2019, activists conducted an operation in Bahrain. Two girls were freed from sexual slavery; one of them was Kazakh citizen. Now Asel (not her real name) is back in her hometown of Shymkent and hopes that this will never happen again.
I had to work for 25 thousand dollars per day, that is, I had to earn this money every day. They took our passports, and said that we will work here and never return home. I have already accepted this thought. I thought I would earn the required money, and then start earning for myself. We live in a very difficult financial situation: my sister and I have no parents, I wanted to buy a house.
My friend contacted the activists of the movement, and two days later, they answered and saved us.
On February 20 of this year, Qadiriya came from Uzbekistan to work after her husband’s invitation. They settled in a rented apartment in Moscow, with several neighbors.
Later, her husband Jaafar began to control the woman, did not let her out of the house, took the passport under the pretext of obtaining a patent and registration and did not return it back. Then, he began to take his wife to his work at a factory for the plastic containers’ production. Qadiriya did not receive money for this work.
My husband rented, ‘as a furniture’, not only me, but also several other wives, whom I learned about in Moscow. We worked where we were told, we did everything. There are mafia gangsters in Russia who earn a lot of money on people like us. My husband works with them.
Qadiriya’s mother addressed the human rights organization Istiqbolli Avlod in Uzbekistan, and they turned to the Alternative movement.
According to the press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Department of the city of Moscow, the so-called “poor mafia” controls beggars in the capital. About 40% of the beggars are held by force and have to work for food. Often, they are the people from the regions and migrants left without work.
Mothers with sleeping infants are called ‘Madonnas’. The child in Madonna’s arms is constantly under the influence of sleeping pills or alcohol and lives on average about three months. They are bought from the vulnerable families or kidnappers. The cost of a child is 200,000 rubles ($2,782). In 2019, approximately 500 children died, about 20%-30% of them were children of migrants and modern slaves from Central Asia.
Tengiz Visaitov comes from Kazakhstan. He left the country at 13 with a relative and ended up in forced labor slavery in Chechnya for 17 years.
I worked everywhere, not quite understanding why I did that. I was waiting for someone to take me home, to search for me, but I did not have any documents. Then, as I grew up, I realized that I had to run.
Currently, I am in the retreat center of the Alternative movement and I have only one document – a birth certificate. However, I have no citizenship. I am in Russia as a migrant; Kazakhstan does not accept me, since I do not have a passport, and left a long time ago. I tried to cross the border a couple of times, they did not let me in, and I returned.
It turns out I am not listed anywhere.
There is no statistics on modern slavery in Russia, but experts claim that the number of migrants disappearing without a trace is growing every year.
According to Oleg Melnikov, the price of one forced labor slave is 15,000 rubles ($210). Experts insist that the new legal norms and additional measures are needed. The fight against forced labor slavery is hindered by inconsistency and the unwillingness to search. In addition, there are no special bodies or units to counter the human trafficking and modern slavery.
The head of the Caritas Center Petr Sokolov is sure that the migrants living in the modern slavery do not call the police or run away, even if there is an opportunity to do it.
“There were so many cases when an innocent migrant was imprisoned for someone else’s crime just to reduce the statistics of unsolved crimes. It is not a secret for anyone. They are afraid of the police, even more than their employers. Many migrants work illegally for 5-6 years and live in Russia without registration. Nobody wants the problems. Due to this, the statistics is completely different, and more migrants find themselves in the modern slavery every year,” says Sokolov.
After the coronavirus pandemic, their number will grow, as Oleg Melnikov predicts. According to him, a new wave of the forced labor slavery is expected, because during the quarantine period in Russia, 10 million people lost their jobs.