By Paul Goble
Vladimir Putin’s decision to eliminate the Federal Migration Service and to transfer its functions and most of its staff to the interior ministry may save the Kremlin money but only at the price of a new growth in tensions between immigrants and the Russian police, two groups which have never had an easy relationship in the past.
The biggest danger, most experts surveyed by Nazaccent.ru say, is that the interior ministry will treat all immigrants as at least potentially illegal, even though the overwhelming majority are in Russia legally and need help to adapt to Russian conditions rather than be blocked from working there (nazaccent.ru/content/20169-sluzhba-v-mvd.html).
Andrey Mezhenko, deputy head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, says that in the view of his administration, migrant issues should have been transferred to it rather than to the interior ministry given that the agency is particularly interested in promoting integration whereas the interior ministry is focused on enforcing the law.
Gavkhar Dzhurayev, head of the Migration and Law Center, says that his group has been pleased with the work the FMS had been doing. Consequently, disbanding it as Putin has and transferring 70 percent of its employees to the interior ministry raises many questions. What this will mean, he says, “is difficult to say.”
“Let us hope,” he continues, that this won’t lead to new persecution of migrants by the police given that “discrimination against migrants by the police” is something rights activists have pointed to for a long time. Perhaps, the FMS staffers now within the interior ministry will help change this.
Unfortunately, there are good reasons to think this won’t happen. It is “precisely in the police” where anti-immigrant attitudes and actions are most often found.
Vladimir Volokh of the State Administration University, says that the FMS had so many functions that it is difficult to see how they will all continue within the interior ministry, especially given the staff cuts of some 30 percent. Migration, he points out, is not just about blocking illegals; it is about integration. And it is unclear that the interior ministry will do both.
“Problems connected with blocking illegal migration,” he says, are only a small part of the work. “On the territory of the Russian Federation each day are approximately 10 million foreign citizens and we know that the absolute majority of them are law-abiding citizens.” They should not be viewed as criminals or potential criminals.
Vyacheslav Postavnin, a former FMS deputy director who now heads the 21st Century Migration Foundation, says that in his view the FMS had “exhausted itself” and needed to be restructured. And he said that despite claims to the contrary, the FMS had not done much to promote adaptation. Instead, it had become simply “a federal passport and visa service.”
Given that, putting it inside the interior ministry makes sense, although this does nothing to address the other issues migration raises.
And Mukhammad Madzhumder, the president of the Federation of Migrants of Russia, says that he understands the Kremlin’s actions given corruption within the FMS and the problems migration is causing in Europe. But he raises the question: “how effective” will this latest change be?
As he points out, “earlier the FMS was under the leadership of the interior ministry. Reorganization is a very complicated thing, and only after six months will it be possible to say something real about it.”