Russian youth group raids outdoor markets near Moscow searching for il…

Russian youth group raids outdoor markets near Moscow searching for illegal migrants
Nov 27 2006, 19:38

MOSCOW (AP) - A Russian youth organization said Monday that it had raided outdoor markets in the Moscow region to help authorities spot illegal migrants, and that police detained several dozen people after fighting broke out.

The previously unknown youth organization Mestnye (Locals) took the action amid government efforts to tighten restrictions on migrants and bar them from trading at markets - moves strongly criticized by rights activists.

Mestnye said in statement on its Web site that several hundred of its activists on Sunday went to check 20 markets in Moscow suburbs for illegal immigrants working as traders. It said the goal of the raid was to help spot migrants who break the law and sell substandard products.

Minor scuffles broke out with traders who challenged the raid, and police had briefly detained over 80 people, including about 30 of the group's activists, the group's leader Sergei Fateyev told the Interfax news agency.

Moscow regional police had no immediate comment on the detentions.

Fateyev said the group would carry out new raids alongside the police.

Fateyev told Channel One television Monday that illegal migrant traders often abuse food safety regulations and sell substandard products.

The issue of immigration has become a lightning rod for President Vladimir Putin's government amid rising popular resentment toward migrants - in particular, dark-skinned migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Putin ordered his Cabinet last month to take steps to decrease the employment of foreign workers at Russian markets, alleging they were crowding out native Russian producers and retailers. Indoor and outdoor markets are staffed heavily by migrants from other ex-Soviet republics, many of them working without official permission to reside or work in Russia - and working long hours for pitifully low salaries.

According to a new Cabinet order regulating labor migration for the next year, migrants will be prohibited from selling alcohol or pharmaceuticals as of Jan. 1. Foreigners should comprise no more than 40 percent of retail personnel employed outside stores during the period ending April 1 and will not be allowed to take these jobs further on next year.

Critics warned that the Cabinet's move would only increase consumer prices and fuel growing xenophobia in Russia.

Racist attacks and hate crimes are on the rise, and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration - a far-right, grassroots political organization - has exploded in popularity in recent months.