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Manual For Migrants Raises Hackles In St. Petersburg

A new advice booklet for migrant laborers that depicts Central Asians as construction-industry tools has caused a kerfuffle in St. Petersburg.
A new advice booklet for migrant laborers that depicts Central Asians as construction-industry tools has caused a kerfuffle in St. Petersburg.
A new manual designed to help migrants from Central Asia has caused a storm in Russia's second city because of its apparent racist content.

According to RFE/RL’s Russian Service, the local prosecutor's office in St. Petersburg has launched preliminary investigations into "Instructions for Labor Migrants," which was recently published in Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek.

The booklet has been printed by the Look Into The Future publishing house and is seemingly intended as an aid for thousands of migrants from Central Asia, many of whom are employed as construction workers in Russia’s major cities.

Along with legal information concerning Russian rules and regulations, the booklet also provides some social advice.

Among other things, it warns labor migrants not to spit in the street, not to squat, not to litter, and not to wear bathrobes or tracksuits in public places.

The booklet's illustrations also depict labor migrants as tools commonly used in the construction industry, such as hammers, brooms, paintbrushes, and paint scrapers.

Somewhat controversially, the pictures portray these immigrants being met at the airport by real human beings wearing the uniforms of Russian customs officials and border guards.

Another drawing shows the tools being lectured by a human doctor on the danger of AIDS. He also warns them that they should go home immediately if they are infected.

Not surprisingly, the booklet's content has drawn criticism for being somewhat bigoted and relying on cliched stereotypes.

Leading Russian human rights activists Lyudmila Alekseyeva and Lev Ponomaryov have slammed the book, calling it humiliating and offensive.

The publication of "Instructions for Labor Migrants" comes at a time when xenophobia in Russia is reportedly on the rise.

Migrant workers are frequently attacked by extreme nationalists and are often harassed by police and other government authorities.

St. Petersburg's city administration told an RFE/RL correspondent that it had nothing to do with the booklet's publication, even though the Reuters news agency reports that it was approved by the mayor's office.

Stefania Kulayeva of the Memorial antidiscrimination center in St. Petersburg told RFE/RL that a number of locally based migrant workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus have contacted her organization to complain about the book.

"The book’s authors probably had good intentions and wanted to help labor migrants, but the project was definitely not a success because of its offensive character,” Kulayeva said.

It has since been announced that city authorities searched the offices of the Look Into The Future publishing house on October 19 as part of their ongoing investigation into the matter.

-- With reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Tatyana Voltskaya in St. Petersburg and Merhat Sharipzhan in Prague

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