Squalor and misery: Moscow migrants' fate

The Russian capital has long attracted people from neighboring ex-Soviet states in search of work and a better life. But all too often, low-paid migrants in Moscow are taken advantage of by rogue landlords.

­At first glance it looks like a case of illegal immigrants squatting in a former architectural gem. This building, once part of the Moscow Conservatoire, stood empty for years. Now, it is home to a large group of immigrants living in very poor conditions and illegally, right in the heart of the city.

The immigrants would perhaps have gone unnoticed if it were not for the fuss raised by the “Quiet Centre,” a group of local residents wanting the migrants off their doorstep.

”They live in crowded conditions. Who knows what diseases they may have? Many of them don’t work. Where do they get money to eat? By stealing or committing other crimes,” believes Igor Mangushev, an anti-immigrant activist.

Igor and his fellow activists call the authorities, and the next day they return with officers of the Federal Migration Service. The migrants who open their doors soon wish they had not.

Most are too scared to talk, and what is finally discovered points to a far larger and more shocking story. They are not squatting – they are being charged rent.

“A man comes to pick up the money from everyone living here. I only know his face, not his name. Stop filming me!” exclaimed one of the migrants.

Each one of the rooms has up to six beds. And each of the people that are sleeping in these rooms pays 3,000 rubles every month to do that.

As the migrants are led outside, the questioning changes from ‘What are you doing here?’ to ‘Who is keeping you here?’ Eventually one of the “Quiet Centre” group provides an answer.

“It’s the local housing committee. It happens all over Moscow. As unemployed and often illegal immigrants they’re forced to pay to stay in old and abandoned buildings. If they can’t they’re thrown out,” explained Elena Tkach from the “Quiet Centre”.

“The local housing committee, in turn, shares its earnings with the city council and a district police inspector because it’s impossible without their consent,” added Elena.

When these allegations were taken to the Federal Migration service they admitted it was not the migrants’ fault they wanted somewhere to live. The Moscow Central District Government was even more damning, confirming our suspicions and admitting that the rot goes deep inside the housing administration.

“Criminal proceedings should be initiated, and the case should be investigated and taken to court. Or else other officials abusing their job positions will worsen the habit of letting dilapidated houses to illegal migrants,” said Pavel Bolshunov from the Moscow Central District Administration.

The investigation revealed just a small part of the scheme to charge illegal rents at hundreds of sites across Moscow to people in a desperate position.

And by providing false hope of a place to live, they are only going to encourage more misery, for residents and migrants alike.