Riots reveal Muscovites' anger at migrants and police

More than 1,200 migrant workers detained in Moscow after protests follow fatal stabbing

Russian police detain migrant workers during a raid at a vegetable warehouse complex in the Biryulyovo district of Moscow on Monday. Photograph: Ivan Stolpnikov/Reuters

Russian police detain migrant workers during a raid at a vegetable warehouse complex in the Biryulyovo district of Moscow on Monday. Photograph: Ivan Stolpnikov/Reuters

Mon, Oct 14, 2013, 18:17

Russian officials are calling for calm after simmering tension between Muscovites and migrant workers from the Caucasus and central Asia exploded into riots.

Police rounded up more than 1,200 workers at a large fruit and vegetable warehouse in southern Moscow on Monday, a day after anger over a fatal stabbing spiralled into riots involving local people and ultra-nationalists.

Residents of the rundown Moscow district of Biryulyovo accuse a man from the Caucasus or central Asia of stabbing to death a local Russian in the street last week, in what they say is only the latest example of violence and lawlessness involving migrant workers at the warehouse.

Thousands of people marched through Biryulyovo on Sunday night, storming the warehouse facility and a shopping centre and demanding that police find the alleged killer. Some chanted slogans including “Russia for Russians” and “Moscow for Muscovites”.

Clashes ensued when riot police confronted protesters and were pelted with bottles, sticks and rocks. Several cars were overturned and stalls of melons smashed up. The police responded with batons and arrested about 400 people, all but 72 of whom were later released without charge.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin reported yesterday to Russian president Vladimir Putin on the situation in Biryulyovo, and the city chief ordered the fruit and vegetable depot to remain closed for five days pending investigations into its operations.

Police said the 1,200 or so people they detained at and near the warehouse complex would be checked for permission to reside in Moscow and for any connections to the stabbing or other criminal activity. Ethnic Russians often place the blame for petty and more serious crime on migrants from troubled, mostly Muslim republics in the Russian Caucasus like Chechnya and Dagestan, as well as on people from ex-Soviet states in central Asia who seek work in Moscow and other Russian cities.

Many Russians, including the protesters in Biryulyovo, also accuse officials and police of failing to control migration or crack down on crime, and of taking bribes from migrants or their bosses in return for allowing them to stay in Moscow and keep working.

Alexei Navalny, an opposition activist with a nationalist streak, called on Moscow’s police chief to resign and demanded “root-and-branch reform of the courts, police and visa regime with central Asia.” “You have to understand that the more horror a place densely populated by migrants brings to the lives of locals, the more money it brings to the security services and local authorities,” Mr Navalny wrote on his blog.

One resident of Biryulyovo, who gave his name as Alexander, said: “It’s simply impossible to live here. There are fights all the time. The people working in this warehouse are no good — I’m sure there are criminals hiding among them.” Leaders of ultra-nationalist groups said their supporters had taken part in the protests, and some locals praised them as being more effective than the police. “They protected us, they are patriots,” said pensioner Elvira Ablosimova.