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Nationalist Riots In Moscow Send Fear Through Muslim Migrant Communities

Police officers detain alleged illegal migrants at a raid on a warehouse in the Biryulyovo-Zapadnoye district of Moscow on October 14.
MOSCOW -- Moscow's migrant workers have seen this story before and they believe they have reason to be afraid.

When an unidentified man -- believed to be from the Caucasus -- stabbed and killed a young ethnic Russian on October 10, triggering the capital's worst ethnic riots in three years, police made hundreds of arrests. By late on October 13, they had wrested the southern district of Biryulyovo from Russian nationalists, who had overturned cars, smashed windows and stormed a vegetable warehouse looking for migrants.

But by October 14, nearly all the rioters had been released from custody. And now, the authorities have apparently turned their sights on the migrants.

In one raid, Moscow law enforcement officials arrested 1,200 migrant workers at a vegetable warehouse that was overrun by nationalists the previous day. Another 450 were detained in northeastern Moscow, also near a vegetable market employing migrant workers.

Dzhamal, 40, an Uzbek from Tajikistan who works and lives in the warehouse, witnessed the arrests before he fled the scene -- despite having documentation to work in Russia. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Dzhamal described how a team of police and migration officers arrived around 10 a.m. and arrested "all the blacks" without checking whether their documents were legitimate and made them board police buses to the station.

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Azamat, 36, an Uzbek taxi driver who has lived in Moscow for eight years, is sure that migrants will end up bearing the fallout from these riots. He says many migrants have gone into hiding. "Every time, when these kinds of things happen, it is the migrants who suffer -- the people in foreign lands who have no rights or home," Azamat says. "The ones they call 'illegals.'"

Not The First Time

It is not the first time a killing has ignited nationalist fervor in and around the Russian capital. In December 2010, the killing of an ethnic Russian soccer fan by a North Caucasian man ignited riots at the foot of the Kremlin walls. Last July, in the small town of Pugacheva southeast of Moscow, the killing of a local resident by an ethnic Chechen fueled xenophobic rioting.

Animosity toward migrants has risen as migration, both internal -- from, for instance, the North Caucasus -- and external, from Central Asia and the South Caucasus, has increased. There are over 11 million foreigners registered in Russia officially, but the real figure is estimated to be higher. Many Russian citizens from the North Caucasus also face hostility.

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The October 13 violence spurred the head of the Russian Federation of Migrants, Mukhammad Amin, to warn migrants not to leave their homes. "There could be attacks in various regions of Moscow. Nationalists are being very aggressive," Amin was quoted as telling Interfax.

Magomed Karasov, 24, a Russian citizen from the Karachai-Cherkessia Republic in the North Caucasus, described his fears after praying at a Moscow mosque.

"Everything's going to be harder now because as practice shows in these kinds of situations they don't take things up with a specific person -- they stoke things," Karasov said. "There is the possibility that law enforcement officers will get carried away as well as the nationalists."

For Karasov, the most important thing is that Kurban Bairam, the Muslim holiday that begins on October 15, is not marred by the riots. He said he feared there could be provocations.

"I really want everyone alert," he said, "for law-enforcement officers and my compatriots and Moscow residents not to give into provocations."

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report