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Immigrants in Moscow Stick to Their Community

Immigrants from Central Asia are only partially integrated into life in Moscow and are not using many of the city’s resources and opportunities. Their way of life and living standards differ drastically from those Russians who live and work in the Russian capital. Immigrants from former Soviet republics work on weekdays and do household chores or socialise among themselves on weekends, and thus have difficulty adjusting to life in a big city, according to a study by Ekaterina Demintseva and Vera Peshkova published in the HSE's Demoscope Weekly

In Moscow, unlike many Western cities, there are no ethnic ghettos, and immigrants from former Soviet republics settle in all parts of the city and in all types of neighbourhoods and buildings. Immigrants granted citizenship are entitled to the same benefits as other Russians, such as free healthcare and education for children.

But despite living side by side with Muscovites and even holding Russian passports, immigrants from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan do not enjoy the same living conditions as locals, say Ekaterina Demintseva, Leading Research Fellow of the HSE's Institute for Social Development Studies, and Vera Peshkova, Research Fellow of the RAS Institute of Sociology, in the article 'Migrants from Central Asia in Moscow' published in Demoscope Weekly.

The researchers have conducted 60 in-depth interviews with immigrants from the two former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and observed their everyday lives in four districts of Moscow, including Begovoy in the north, Academichesky in the south-west, New Reutov in the east, and Molodezhny in the west of the Russian capital. Demintseva and Peshkova surveyed 397 immigrants about various aspects of their life in Moscow. Most respondents were aged between 20 and 40, and 84% completed secondary school only or secondary school followed by vocational training.

Coming to Moscow to Join Family Members

Most respondents (66%) were married, but only some had come to Russia with their spouses. Many respondents were single, widowed, or divorced women who had come to Moscow on their own. The biggest proportion of unmarried immigrants were young men and women joining their parents who already lived in Moscow.

Factors influencing the decision of whether to bring children immediately to Moscow or to invite them later included whether or not the parents already had Russian citizenship, the availability of housing and employment, and if leaving the child in the home country with relatives was an option. According to the survey, 76% of immigrants live in Moscow without their children.

Social connections play a large part in the decision to come to Moscow and the inital place of residence in the city. According to Demintseva and Pashkova, nearly all newcomers join family or friends and absolutely everyone knows at least one contact person in Moscow.

No Ethnic Ghettos in Moscow

Where immigrants from Central Asia settle in Moscow depends on how long ago they arrived, whether they have friends or relatives in Moscow, and whether they have come with a spouse and/or children. Most immigrants cannot afford to rent a room, and more than one third (34%) share a room with 2 or 3 other people, and about the same percentage share a room with 5 to 8 other people who are not necessarily their relatives or even from the same county.

Renting a bed in a room shared with other people costs some 3500 rubles a month, and such accommodation is available almost anywhere in the Russian capital. The study found that settlement patterns are not determined by the type of neighbourhood or housing, which can be anything from 'Stalinist' buildings to 'Khrushchyovkas' to recent housing projects.

Since communist-era urban development favoured mixed-type neighbourhoods accommodating people of different social backgrounds, ‘immigrants can find affordable housing in the city centre, in old pre-fab buildings in the outskirts, or in barely finished recent housing projects, ’Demintseva and Peshkova explain. The type of neighbourhood or building are not that important for newcomers seeking affordable, if slightly run down, accommodation in Moscow.

Home Close to Workplace

Every flat accommodating numerous immigrants usually has a single 'principal tenant' who often covers his/her own rent and earns a small extra income by subletting to others. The principal tenant is the one who deals with the landlord, while other tenants do not know the landlord and rely on the principal tenant in all matters concerning their accommodation.

Family and friends usually help newcomers to find a place to live in Moscow, and often older relatives invite younger ones to stay with them.

The distance between workplace and home is an important consideration for immigrants; two thirds of respondents said they needed 30 minutes maximum to get to work, and usually their workplace was within walking distance. Changing jobs often caused immigrants to change residence as well.

Moscow Not Always Meeting Expectations

According to many respondents, living conditions in the Russian capital were worse than they had expected. "Life in Moscow causes constant stress for most labourmigrants from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan," the authors note. Some people live for years without any personal space whatsoever, and a private room is the ultimate dream for many.

Moving to another country also means that immigrants have to give up their traditional lifestyles and have less contact with relatives. People living in a confined space cannot have visitors over, and family celebrations, if any, are less numerous and held outside the home – usually in inexpensive cafes or outdoors.

Leisure Time Spent Watching Television

Gender, age, availability of spare time, finance, social networks, and values determine how city-dwellers spend their leisure time. For immigrants, an important factor is how long they have lived in Moscow. Some respondents said that they never left home other than for work in the first few years of their life in the Russian capital, and only after a while started visiting other people, taking walks in the city, and eating out (usually in ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz places), and generally felt more comfortable in the city.

Few immigrants have either time or energy to explore Moscow – many respondents said they spent most weekends doing household chores, and the most common leisure activities included television (which also helped them learn Russian), the internet, and social networks.

Shopping Malls: Symbols of a Big City

Some immigrants, however, do actively explore the city and search out new places to buy inexpensive food and clothes and to go out with friends. They see the Gardener Market, the Auchan chain stores, Afimall, Metropolis, and other malls in Moscow not only as shopping places (if they can afford to shop), but also as places that provide entertainment.

Indeed, they regard malls as the symbol of an affluent modern city. "These places look like the TV images of a large and vibrant city that they had expected to see here," Demintseva and Peshkova comment.

Oddly enough, the rest of Moscow does not impress immigrants too much; they consider it 'too ordinary' to fit in their idea of a metropolis with skyscrapers. Some younger respondents said, "It is almost like back home in Tashkent – nothing special to see," while some others – perhaps due to a certain historic inertia – still consider staying "in the former capital of the USSR" a great privilege and like to go to places like Kremlin, the VDNKh Exhibition Center, and Sparrow Hills.

Immigrants Enter City Life through Their Community

"[Immigrants] go to shopping-mall food courts not just to eat, but also to socialise with friends, relatives, and other people from home," the researchers note. Being in touch with their community is particularly important for newcomers.

Team sports like football provide another way of staying in touch, but Muscovites are not always happy to see teams of immigrants using public playgrounds and facilities, the researchers note.

Immigrants with a Russian passport use the city infrastructure – such as schools, health clinics, and banks – just like other residents.

In general, Moscow does not have isolated neighbourhoods with a mainly immigrant population, even though, according to some experts, wealth and poverty in the Russian capital are increasingly associated with certain areas and ethnicities. But despite the absence of territorial exclusion, immigrants from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, such as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, find social integration in Moscow difficult, stay mainly within their ethnic communities, and live in conditions which are radically different from those experienced by most native Russians in Moscow.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, May 29, 2014