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February 1997, Volume 4, Number 2

Russian Internal Migration

Internal migration within Russia has been stymied by the Soviet-installed system of residency permits, known as propiska. Without a residency permit, it is nearly impossible for Russians to move to another city and find work or housing. The residency permit system has kept rural residents from flocking to urban areas, especially to cities such as Moscow.

In recent years, a payment of about $7,000, equivalent to 500 times the minimum monthly wage, was required to secure a residence permit for Moscow. After the residence permit fee was challenged in court last year, Moscow's mayor canceled the propiska, but asked the city council to charge a fee 300 times the minimum monthly wage for newcomers who wish to purchase an apartment. The Moscow city council has so far refused to approve the fee.

Apartments are the most valuable possession of many urban residents. Since the collapse of the Soviet government, most apartments were privatized or sold to their inhabitants for a nominal sum. Most apartment owners cannot afford to sell their apartments because real estate prices, especially in Moscow, have soared.

Some ethnic Russians who fled to Moscow before 1991 have found themselves considered "foreigners" because they do not have proper documentation to secure housing, jobs and social services. Many were granted forced migrant or refugee status by the Russian Constitution, but still find themselves subject to local laws that often leave them with no status, and hence no services.

The Russian population fell by 475,000 in 1996 to 147.5 million in January 1997. Some 97,500 emigrants left Russia in 1996, with over 90 percent moving to Germany, Israel and the US.

Hazardous environmental conditions have forced about 700,000 persons to abandon their homes around Chernobyl, the Aral Sea and the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. There are an estimated 150,000 environmental migrants in the Ukraine, 75,000 in the Russian Federation and 145,000 in Belarus. Ecologists say there are more than 270 areas in the former Soviet Union where environmental contamination is forcing people to abandon their homes.

A Belorussian official said that Belorussian border guards have been placed along the border with Russia in order to prevent African and Asian illegal immigrants from entering. In 1996, border guards detained over 3,000 illegal immigrants, including 1,000 from Asia and Africa.

The Ukraine and Belarus will set up a joint committee to study problems along the 953-mile border that they share.

Lithuanian border guards offer cash rewards to residents of the frontier town of Lazdijai who provided information about illegal immigrants. Lazdijai is located where Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and Russia meet. In December, tips from residents led to the arrests of about 400 illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, India and Sri Lanka who had tried to enter Lithuania via Belarus.

According to the Russian Federal Migration Service, the number one source of illegal immigrants to Russia in 1996 was Afghanistan. The FMS estimates that six families of Afghan refugees come to Moscow each day. An estimated 150,0000 illegals from Afghanistan live in the Moscow metropolitan area.

In 1996, about 20,000 Russians left Kyrgyzstan, down about 50 percent from 1994-95. About 6,000 Russian-speaking migrants returned to Kyrgyzstan from Russia in 1996.

There are about 750,000 Russians living in Kyrgyzstan, down from 900,000 recorded in the Soviet census in 1989.

More than 1.5 million people have been granted Russian citizenship since 1992, including 900,000 living outside Russia.


Andrei Fomin, "Belorussia, Russia to Coordinate Border Protection," TASS, January 22, 1997. Sarah Koenig, "Refugees in Russia tangled in conflicting laws, New York Times, January 19, 1997. David Hoffman, "Moscow Remains a Perk for Permit Holders," Washington Post, January 20, 1997. "Ukraine and Belarus to set up special committee on border problems," Deutsche Presse Agentur, January 17, 1997. Lilily Kuznetsova, "Afghanistan becomes main supplier of illegals to Russia," TASS, January 3, 1997. Victor Imoshenko, "Migration of the peoples of the former Union as a factor in intergovernmental policy," Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 7, 1996. Vladas Burbulis, "Lithuania Police Issues Awards for Tipoffs on Immigrants," TASS, January 2, 1997.