A few hundred Central Asian labor migrants appear to have been left in limbo after being booted out of Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, where they had spent over two weeks waiting for a charter flight to take them home ahead of a COVID-19 lockdown in the Russian capital.
Although the estimated 300 migrants, primarily from Tajikistan, had plane tickets, flight cancellations and border closures related to the coronavirus pandemic had left them stranded. Staying in Moscow was not an option, they said. Their residential permits had expired as they waited for a flight out of Russia.
Early on March 31, one day after pandemic restrictions went into effect in Moscow, uniformed individuals approached the group, asked how many they were, and told them to get everyone together, one of the migrants, a Tajik man identified only as Farukh, told RIA Novosti journalist Galiya Ibragimova.
“They promised that we’ll fly out tonight,” Farukh said. The group assembled, he said, but “they just kicked us out onto the street,” where the temperature was below freezing.
“They said: ‘That’s it, you can’t be in the airport.’ And threw us out,” he continued, according to a post on Ibragimova’s Facebook page.
No transportation was provided to a hotel or any other shelter, Farukh said.
“We’re like horses plowing the fields in Russia. We rarely get days off. And now, nobody needs us. They just threw us out like trash nobody needs. “
An unidentified spokesperson for the Domodedovo airport, however, told RIA Novosti that the group had been supplied “with everything necessary.”
With Moscow now banning any large gatherings, “a mass accumulation of people in public places is not allowed,” however, the spokesperson said, adding that the migrants had been informed of this.
Farukh filmed a video of the migrants that has been posted on YouTube:
The migrants told Current Time that no government officials had come to Domodedovo to try and sort out their problem by legalizing their stay in Russia or providing temporary shelter.
Apart from the airport bathrooms, they had nowhere to wash. They slept on chairs in the passenger lounge since the airport bans sleeping on the floor. Volunteers and other Central Asian expatriates brought them food and water.
The Tajik embassy did not respond to Current Time’s request for comment. Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti agency, however, had better luck.
Ambassador Imomuddin Sattorov claimed that the Tajik embassy has been in contact with the companies for which the migrants worked to try and extend their work permits. It also has spoken with officials in the Russian region of Tatarstan, a predominantly Muslim area with cultural ties to Central Asia, to set up jobs for the migrants, the envoy said. The local government has “promised its support,” he added.
“Indeed, this is not humane if they close everything and kick people from Central Asia out onto the street,” Ambassador Sattorv commented. “Many Russian companies will simply be left without any workforce.”
The ambassador took aim at unidentified individuals who, he alleged, had misled the Tajik migrants with promised additional flights to Tajikistan.
Seven flights had earlier taken back to Tajikistan “almost all those stranded” in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, Vnukovo, and Zhukovsky Airports, and no further flights are planned, he said.
“We warned earlier that there won’t be any more flights. The borders are closed. But people continued to flock to the airports.”
The migrants originally had tickets on Ural Airlines, a private Russian carrier, flying out of Moscow’s Zhukovsky Airport. After their flight was canceled, they waited four days for another flight option.
Representatives of the private Tajik airline Somon Air eventually told them that a charter flight would be organized from the city’s Domodedovo airport, the migrants alleged, so they changed locations.
Before their ejection from Domodedovo, they told Current Time that they feared being kicked out onto the street during the quarantine. Without the permits needed to live legally in Moscow, that could put them at the mercy of the city’s police force, a body regularly criticized by rights activists for alleged mistreatment of Central Asian migrants.
“Some [police officers] are nice; others will grab you, take you to the police station," elaborated Tajik migrant Kamiljon Akhmadov. "I don’t want to get deported for an expired registration, expired permits.”
The migrants currently are living in hostels or staying with acquaintances in Moscow.
-With additional reporting from RIA Novosti