Sergei Sobyanin’s election campaign began with the search for enemies and it turned out that migrants were to blame for the city’s problems. The solution of the “leading candidate” for Mayor of Moscow resonated with the slogan of the infamous Movement Against Illegal Immigration (MAIL – DPNI): Let them work and then leave. However, he had clearly forgotten to ask advice from Peter Biriukov, his deputy. He would have told him why immigrants are now an inseparable part of Moscow.

Late evening, Tishinksaya Square, a streetlight faintly illuminates Zurab Tsereteli’s monument of Eternal Friendship. Around it a group of about five hefty boys are congregating led by a skinny leader plus a film crew from Swedish television and their interpreter and a couple of Russian journalists. The “Holy Russia” movement making a regular raid against illegal migrants living in the basements of buildings in Krasnaya Presnya.

Man Hunt

This initially resembles a game of soldiers: Igor Mangushev, the leader of the movement, goes off to “survey the area,” the boys smoke and make vulgar soldiers’ jokes. They strut around like before an attack, that might be their last, although they know very well that strength is on their side today. The telephone of one of the boys rings. “So, we split up into pairs, go over to the side of Gruzinskaya, we keep our distance from each other, but don’t lose each other. We have to enter the yard without any fuss,” he says.

We all enter the courtyard en masse and then the chase begins. “Go, go, don’t lose him.” The prey is Ali. He is scared to death and dressed in an orange overall with the name “Maxim Group” on it. His timid open-mouthed wife is trying to beat off a man. All this resembles a children’s game, like a group of first graders catching a “spy” from the neighbouring school and trying to extract a terrible secret from him. “So, where do you live? Answer, before it gets worse. Do you live in the basement? Where are the keys?” The woman replies for Ali, she says they live on Lenin Prospekt and that they only work here. They don’t believe her. They find the basement and go down, but they don’t find a trace of life. There is a cardboard box instead of a table and there are remains of an evening meal, but no mattresses or personal belongings.

They go back up to the courtyard to go somewhere else. Ali recounts in very bad Russian that they come from the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan, he swears that he lives on Lenin Prospekt, but that he goes to the basement to “have relations” with his wife, since there are three families in their one-room flat. “Please let me go,” he suddenly asks in tears, turning to the interpreters of the Swedish journalists. The interpreter glances over to the broad-shouldered Holy Russian standing next to him and replies in a guilty tone that there is nothing he can do.

Finally they find another basement where someone is obviously living. A broken padlock is hanging from the door and the door is held by a cable from inside. It’s like mice laying a lair of cotton wool to hide from other mice. The door withstands the battering for a long time, until the cable gives and the whole band rushes in. There are three Kyrgyz couples, sharing the narrow 15m2 basement divided into three tiny rooms. There is a stench of stale air. It is dark in the basement, even though in each tiny room there is a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. In the bathroom there is a water pipe taken from the building’s water supply. On the table in the entrance lies an open copy of a luxury 1970s edition of War and Peace. “They steal everything like magpies,” one of the boys says. “Hey, where are you going?” He asks a Kyrgyz girl. “To the toilet? Well, be quick about it, if you run away we’ll search the entire region.”

The events develop in the customary way. The Holy Russians call the police. They go to the station, write a statement, but the migrants are normally released after their fingerprints are taken, and in response the police normally issues a statement: “An inspection was carried out and there was no evidence of illegal residents.” “They only deport about ten percent,” says Igor Mangushev, “but after raids like this they look for somewhere else to live.”

Migrants in court

According to modest calculations, up to 100,000 janitors and specialists in other professions, such as carpenters, electricians and fitters are employed in the Moscow infrastructure. More than 90% of them are migrants from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Andrei Egorov, assistant to the municipal councillor for the Izmailovo Region Ludmila Bogacheva and actively involved in the problems of housing and communal services, explaines the situation to The New Times. He adds that about 60% of these migrants live and work illegally in Moscow.

Aziz is a janitor and The New Times meets him in the north of Moscow. He came to Moscow from Buhara one year ago, but he has no official documents. When we ask him what he did about the police, he just waves his hand: “The boss does everything.” Over the past years, Aziz has only once left the region – to go to the centre to see the 9th May parade. Any journey poses a danger and the possibility of having to bribe a policeman, and 1,000 roubles for not having a registration is a lot of money for Aziz. He earns a typical wage for a Moscow janitor, about 24,000 roubles. He receives only 11,000 in cash, the rests goes to the pocket of the same “boss” – the local Repair and Maintenance Company.

“It’s very easy to do this with documents,” says Andrei Egorov, “Even if the migrant has an official job with an official salary, the company has a system of fines. In such cases the entire amount is subtracted from the salary account, and only part of it is paid in cash.” Quite often the managers abuse the illiteracy of their workers: They make them sign two payslips with identical sums. However, the two payslips are actually different, one is for the wages given to the worker, the other payslip remains with the manager.

Aziz speaks Russian badly, but he knows the word “podrabotka” (cash in hand). Somethimes someone needs to have a cooker installed, or rubbish taken out, in general he earns an extra 11 till 12 thousand roubles every month, that he sends home to Buhara. The rest of the money is enough for food and a monthly woman – the local “Moscow” Uzbek women offer themselves for 1,500 roubles. At least he doesn’t have to pay for housing. Aziz and six of his compatriots live in the electrical control room of the nine-storey panelled block of flats. The refuge is provided by the same “boss”. However, Aziz is happy, since the other Uzbeks in the region are not so lucky. Just around the corner, about 90 people live in the basement of another nine-storey block. Most of them pay 8,000 roubles every month for the chance to sleep in the rooms, plus 2,000 to the local policeman so that he doesn’t look too closely at their documents. On the first floor of the same building are a magistrate’s reception office and the Regional Safety Centre, and just opposite is the regional court.

Aziz’s working day begins at 6.00 am. “By 8.00 I need to sweep the pavements of the whole region. At 9.00, I have a meeting with the boss who gives instructions. A lawn needs laying, a fence needs painting… From 12.00 to 14.00 I have a lunch break, then a second round of cleaning, at 17.00 the janitors are free to do cash-in-hand jobs”. However, it also happens that in the winter he has to clear snow until two o’clock at night, and get up again for work at 6.00.

“Moscow will drown without migrants,” Abu Shihaliev said in an interview with The New Times. He is the director of sector No. 6 in the Presnya District. The district is taken care of by the same “Maxim Group,” whose overalls Ali had been wearing when he was caught by the Holy Russians. “Of course, it would be easier for me to work with people who can at least speak Russian. But what kind of Russian would work for a salary like that with such a schedule? Apart from that I can stand over the Uzbeks and get them to work well, while a Russian would just tell me in very clear terms to get off his back.”

In the words of Abu Shihaliev, his sector has been lucky. 20% of his employees are experienced. They are also mainly migrants, but they came from the Soviet provinces in the 1980s. The rest of them are foreigners. Most of them work for a “test period” without a work permit. “How else?” Abu asks. “If we obtain documents for them, they will just run away and get a job on a building site. The migrants have to obtain their own documents. They say it costs about 17,000.”

Moreover, says Andrei Egorov, the practice of probationary periods, even though it is widespread in Moscow, is absolutely illegal. “You can’t employ a foreigner on a probationary period; he has to enter the country knowing in advance where he will be working. He has to have a quota and a work permit.”

“Fly-by-night” cleaning

Andrei Klichko, a deputy of the Moscow State Duma, and leader of a fraction of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, told The New Times, that according to his calculations about 11 billion roubles from the city budget were spent on cleaning the areas around blocks and their maintenance in 2012. Most of this money is sent by the Department of Housing and Communal Services and Maintenance supervised by Petar Biriukov to the prefectures who allocate it to the SE (state enterprises) and ES (engineering services) in the regions, who in their turn allocate it to the SE and ES in the districts. However, if the residents choose the management company to maintain their properties, then annual electronic tenders are held for the cleaning of the territory of the SE and ES regions. The subcontractors who participate in these tenders are obliged not only to offer the lowest possible contract price, but also have to account for the work completed.

However, as Andre Egorov explains to the newspaper, there are two basic schemes according to which the tenders are won: either the tendering companies all belong to the same people represented by different front men – then the tender is won with the minimum reduction in price. Or a “fly-by-night” company offers a dumping price and transfers all the work to subcontracters after signing the state contract. “For example, there may be 50 million rouble for cleaning territories. It is won by a “fly-by-night” company that offers 35 million for the contract. The company that will really do the work will get at most 10 million, most of that money is payed in cash, and there is no control over this money,” says Andrei Egorov. In these cases the subcontractors are frequently local Maintenance and Operation Companies chosen by the residents to service their homes.

What is more, the Maintenance and Operation Companies often do not employ janitors. These companies are not obliged to carry out cleaning work. And so they have to find additional staff from the migrant workers. “Sometimes the MOC refuses to work for the conditions offered and then the “fly-by-night” company sends a bus to Kursk Station and brings in ten migrant workers. They give them somewhere to live in the basement, and by doing this they can show some sort of activity,” explains Andrei Egorov. The role of “fly-by-night” companies, however strange it may sound, may be fulfilled by state companies such as the State Unitary Company – Unified Order Company (GUP DEZ). They are not entitled to employ janitors and fitters and so they have to find subcontractors. The result is that the same migrants are employed to clean underpasses and courtyards, and most of them are illegal.

Even though the fine for employing illegal foreigners can reach up to 800,000 roubles, only a few management companies receive quotas to employ foreigners. In any case, in the absence of a quota, the matter can always be resolved by the Federal Migration Service: The cost of a work permit is 20,000 roubles. “Fines are rarely imposed,” Elena Tkach, municipal deputy of the Presnya District explains to The New Times, “the company management resolves the question directly with the FMS and the police, who just warn them about examinations, if they need to be carried out. Almost all the directors of the district police stations are on their payrolls.”

It is difficult, if not impossible, to campaign against breaches of these laws. A representative of one of the management companies in the Izmailovo District, who wished to remain anonymous, told The New Times that the management of Technology Ltd, who won the lion’s share of the tenders in the district, more than once said in private conversations that they “work directly with Biryukov”. It is, of course, impossible to verify these connections, but it would have been difficult for Technology Ltd to obtain business without powerful supporters, since the company was registered only a couple of months before the tenders, and all the elements of a “fly-by-night” company seemed attributable to it. The company is registered at a mass address, it has a minimum capital fund, the founder, CEO and chief accountant are the same person, and most important of all, the complete absence of employees who are supposed to fulfil the work envisaged in the tender. Andrei Egorov approached the state prosecutors’ office without any result: the prosecutors resigned from the case, and in the meantime Technology Ltd transferred the work to a subcontractor and was suddenly relocated to Nizhnii Novgorod in order to undergo “a reorganisation”.

A kiss for Sobyanin

Everyone whom the newspaper spoke to said in one voice that it would be possible to find a solution for this problem, if there was the political will. Moreover, Andrei Egorov sees the root of the evil in the corrupt system of the SE and ES that allocated the money although they carry out no work and they only carry out very peremptory checks of the work done by others.

Furthermore, it is also possible to find a solution for the staff. “There are thousands of square metres of accommodation available in housing projects in the centre. They are just vacant, and then, through various means, they end up as private property. Then, quite unexpectedly, a fire or collapse occurs; the new owners receive or just buy documents stating an emergency, and then a new development starts on the site,” Elena Tkach explains, adding that some of these buildings could be repaired and turned into hostels. “They would be state-owned apartment buildings, where janitors and other people could be housed.”

The idea has been proposed to Sergei Sobyanin, candidate for Mayor, but there is little hope that it will actually happen. “Luzhkov, for example, was an enemy,” says Elena Tkach, “but that was bad and good at the same time. If he said something, then that would really happen. Sobyanin makes such great statements, that sometimes you could even kiss him. But then when you phone the Mayor’s office and you say that Mr Sobyanin has just said something to the cameras and that you need some sort document and the number of the document…. the document doesn’t exist. There is a system of verbal instructions, that no one accepts as an order to take action.”

So the problem with the migrants will be same as in the ancient Eastern saying about the caravan and the dogs: the Mayor will curse the migrants and they will continue living in the basements, sweeping the Moscow streets and lining the pockets of the Moscow officials. •