The Russian Federation is a transcontinental state that stretches from Europe across Asia. It is the largest state in the world with an area of 17,098,242 km.² According to 2019 data from ROSSTAT (Federal Statistical Service), Russia had 146,792,744 inhabitants, ranking it ninth in the world for the number of its inhabitants and tenth according to its mortality rate.
A semi-presidential federal republic, Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a member of the BRICS, the World Trade Organisation, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Eurasian Union. The Ural Mountains divide the territory into European and Asian Russia. With a wide variety of landscapes, the country has the following climate zones: polar, temperate cold, continental and humid subtropical. Russia is home to a number of ethnic groups and indigenous peoples. The Russian language is the only official language of the state, but its constitution gives the individual republics the right to establish their own official languages in addition to Russian.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many people from the Central Asian Republics moved to Russia in search of employment. The geographical position of the Russian Federation, between the European Union and some countries with a high rate of migration and visa-free entry (most CIS countries) as well as the existence of some “permeable” parts of the Russian border, facilitate strong irregular migration within the CIS.
According to IOM estimates, for many years Russia has held second place, behind the United States, for the number of foreigners present in the country. It is also second in Europe, after Germany, for the number of migrants. According to the OECD, Russia has the highest number of illegal migrants in the world, comprising almost 7% of the country’s population; whereas legal migrant workers comprise 2.5% of the population.
Over the past 20 years, migrant workers have become an indispensable component of Russian urban life. According to statistics, there are 228,990 refugees in Russia. In 2019, Russia received 98,000 migrants, almost double the number it received in the previous year (57,000). These numbers are the highest in the past decade. The largest flows come from Armenia and Ukraine, while arrivals from Belarus and Moldova are decreasing. Ninety-seven percent of migrant workers come from CIS countries.
Highly qualified foreign workers in Russia represent a small group and most of them come from countries whose citizens need a visa to enter Russia.
The Russian Federation is one of the leading countries of origin and also the leading destination for migrants, making it one of the main centres for immigration and a country with an ever-increasing flow of emigration.
The Russian Federation is a transcontinental state that stretches from Europe across Asia. It is the largest state in the world with an area of 17,098,242 km.² According to 2019 data from ROSSTAT (Federal Statistical Service), Russia had 146,792,744 inhabitants, ranking it ninth in the world for its number of inhabitants and tenth according to its mortality rate. Nevertheless, Russia is sparsely populated in relation to its enormous size, with a population density of 8.57 people/km.² According to 2018 figures, the urban population represents 74% and the rural population 26%. The Federation’s population growth rate is -0.08, its fertility rate is 1.78 and its migration rate is 1.70. Russians comprise about 81% of the total population. This percentage has remained stable in recent decades, despite the high mortality rate compared to the birth rate. Finally, according to UN estimates, the Russian population will fall to 132.7 million by 2050, with the decline concentrated mainly in rural areas. GDP is US$29,642 per capita.
A semi-presidential federal republic, Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a member of the BRICS, the World Trade Organisation, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Eurasian Union. According to its constitution, the country is composed of 83 federal entities but some of them have merged over time. There are currently 46 regions, 22 republics, 9 territories, 4 autonomous districts, 1 autonomous region and 2 federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg). The Ural Mountains divide the territory into European and Asian Russia. With a wide variety of landscapes, the country has polar, temperate cold, continental and humid subtropical climate zones.
The Federation is home to different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples. Russians are unevenly distributed throughout the country. In some regions, such as Chechnya, they make up less than 2% of the population and in Ingushetia, they represent only 0.8%. There next seven major ethnic groups are Tatars (3.9%), Ukrainians (1.4%), Bashkirs (1.1%), Chuvash (1%), Chechens (1%), Ingush (0.6%), Armenians (0.9%).
Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism are traditional religions of Russia and are legally part of the country’s cultural and historical heritage. The religion of the majority is Christian Orthodox (80%), followed by atheism (15%), Islam (10%), Buddhism (0.5%), Catholicism (0.38%), and various forms of paganism (1.5%). This makes Islam the second religion in Russia. In 2015, Moscow became home to the largest mosque in Europe. It is estimated that from 16 to 48% of the Russian population does not actually practice any religion. Christian denominations are active: Catholics, Armenians (both Apostolic and Catholic) and Protestants. Most of the parishes (95%) belong to the Orthodox Church. There are about 300 Catholic parishes in Russia.. Easter is the most popular religious holiday in the country and is celebrated by about three-quarters of the Russian population, including those who do not belong to any religion. The patron saints of Russia are: St. Andrew the Apostle, St. George, St. Basil the Great, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. John Chrysostom, St. Nicholas of Mira and St. Vladimir.
The Russian language is the official language of the state, but the constitution gives the individual republics the right to establish their own official languages, in addition to Russian. Ninety-five percent of the population speaks Russian with the remaining 5% split between the Tatar and Ukrainian languages.
The majority of migrant workers in Russia are irregular migrants who are particularly vulnerable to modern slavery. The collapse of the Soviet Union has led many people from the Central Asian Republics to move to Russia in search of opportunities and employment. Every year about 10-12 million workers enter Russia. The geographical position of the Russian Federation, between the European Union and some countries with a high rate of migration, as well as visa-free entry into most countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the existence of some “permeable” parts of the Russian border, facilitate a high rate of irregular migration within the CIS.
According to IOM estimates, Russia has for many years held second place for the number of foreigners in the country after the United States. It is the second country in Europe, after Germany, for the number of migrants. According to the OECD, Russia has the highest number of illegal migrants, representing almost 7% of the country’s population. The percentage of legal migrant workers residing in Russia is 2.5% of the population. Over the past 20 years, migrant workers have become an indispensable component of Russian city life. Most of the migrants from Central Asia work in the construction sector; others are employed in commercial enterprises, service companies and agriculture. According to IOM data, 11.6 million migrants entered Russia in 2019, most of them migrant workers from neighbouring countries and countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The immigration reform, approved in 2014, obliges all migrants to have a residence permit in order for them to work in the country. This policy attempts to legalise the labour market and promote tolerance of residents towards workers arriving from countries without visas. In 2010, the Ministry of the Interior introduced two systems to access the labour market: first, a “licence” system for citizens of former Soviet countries with visa-free entry and second, a set of simplified rules for hiring highly qualified specialists for “quality” immigration. The work licence for foreign citizens guarantees the right to work in the territory of the Russian Federation, provided the foreign citizen has crossed the border of the country legally and has the right to enter the country without a visa. This document provides a permit to work with natural or legal persons. Moreover, these two types of licence are meant to for people who already have an employer.
According to statistical reports, there are 228,990 refugees in Russia. In 2019, Russia received 98,000 immigrants, almost double the number it received the previous year (57,000). These numbers were the highest in 10 years. The largest inflows are from Armenia and Ukraine, while arrivals from Belarus and Moldova are decreasing. Most migrant workers (97%) come from CIS countries. It is important to highlight that the percentage of those with residence permit has decreased somewhat from 69% in 2018 to 64% in 2019. The destinations that attract the most migrants are Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar and Sochi.
Russia adheres to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, the 1967 New York Protocol on the Status of Refugees and the 1993 Federal Refugee Act. Under these rules, Russia can grant asylum seekers permanent refugee status or temporary asylum, which can be extended from year to year. Refugee status is difficult to obtain in Russia, however, and temporary asylum status is not easily granted. In 2018 for example, only 30 people were granted refugee status, 33 in 2017 and 39 in 2016). Overall, 572 refugees were officially recognised in Russia in January 2019. That same year saw 75,941 Ukrainian citizens in Russia, fleeing the war in Southeast Ukraine. In contrast, 76,000 people were granted temporary asylum in Russia in 2018; almost all were Ukrainian citizens (some 75,000), mainly from the war-torn Donbass region; but refugee status is rarely granted to Ukrainian citizens fleeing military operations there. Nevertheless, 1,819 people from the rest of the world were granted temporary asylum status in Russia. In addition, within a year of being granted temporary asylum, foreign nationals must earn income that is equal to the social security allowance in their region of residence.
In Russia, Syrian refugees reside mainly in the North Caucasus. In many cases, they are of Circassian origin, a people originally from the Caucasus, who settled in Syria after the diaspora in the second half of the 19th century. Syrians living in Russia can be divided into two groups: 1) those who arrived before the recent conflict but were unable to return because of military operations and 2) those who arrived during the conflict. Most of the latter are families of Syrian migrant workers who reunited with relatives in Russia after the outbreak of the military conflict. In recent years, according to the NGO Grajdanskoe Sodejstvie, which provides assistance to refugees and migrants in Russia, 2,585 people from Syria have requested refugee status but only two of them received it. Finally, between 2009 and 2016, according to estimates by the Federal Office of Immigration, 293,652 non-citizens applied for refugee status or temporary asylum. Most of the applicants were refugees from Afghanistan (6,742), followed by Georgia (6,557), Syria (5,124) and especially Ukraine(271,319 people).
The Russian Federation is one of the leading countries of departure as well as arrival of migrants. It is one of the main centres of immigration and, at the same time, it is also a country with ever-increasing emigration. Climate change and social factors drive emigration from Russia. According to ROSSTAT figures for 2018, the population in the regions of Eastern Russia, Siberia, the Urals and the Volga decreased due to climate, economic and social factors., At the same time, population has increased in the central, north-western, southern and north Caucasus regions. As a result, there is a progressively increasing population concentration in the western part of Russia. Overall, the number of people who have decided to leave the country has remained stable in recent years.
The phenomenon of “human capital” emigration is significant. The most popular destinations for this type of emigration include Canada, Finland, Germany, Austria, Sweden, France, France and the United States. About 10% of Russian university students stay abroad; moreover, 40% of young people would like to emigrate. The collection of accurate data on emigration is also a challenge. Many migrants do not declare their destination and are therefore not counted. Studies suggest that the number of people who actually left Russia between 2011 and 2017 is 9 times higher than that stated by official statistics.
Asylum seekers from the Russian Federation have doubled in recent years. In 2017 alone, according to the UNHCR report, new applications increased from 3,200 (in 2016) to almost 15,000. Between 2013 and 2016, this figure peaked with 39,800 registered asylum applications. Most asylum seekers turn to Germany (14,900) and Poland (11,900), accounting for two-thirds of all asylum applications from the Russian Federation. France registered 4,600 applications in 2013, a slight decrease compared to 2012. Other countries that received applications include Austria (2,800), Sweden (1,000) and Denmark (980). Overall, asylum applications from the Russian Federation make up 7% of all applications registered in the 44 industrialised countries studied in the UNHCR report.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, people of Asian origin (mostly from China, Vietnam, North Korea and Central Asia) provided the bulk of Russia’s immigrant labour force. In 2019, about 5 million citizens from Central Asian countries were living in Russia. There are relatively few highly skilled foreign workers in Russia, and most of them come from countries whose citizens need visas to enter Russia. These workers can obtain special residence permits and reunite with their families. Unskilled workers, mainly in the trade and construction sectors, account for about 32% of all labour migration. According to forecasts by Russian demographers, the country will have to attract 20 million migrants by 2024 in order to maintain the current number of people of working age.
The Russian economic crisis that started in 2008 and continued in 2014 with economic sanctions by the European Union and the United States has made life more difficult for migrants. A double depreciation of the rouble against major world currencies has led to a reduction in the number of migrants being received and a reduction in the demand for labour in general. The number of migrant workers has decreased by at least one third for countries of origin such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova, which have seen a decrease of more than 50% in the number of their citizens in Russia. New regulations introduced in 2015 have made it more difficult and expensive for migrants to access the labour market in Russia. All potential workers are now required to pass a Russian language and history test, undergo a medical examination and purchase health insurance.
According to 2019 data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the total number of internally displaced persons registered in Russia was 12,000, most of them in Irkutsk (10,000), which was due to natural disasters such as the flooding of the Angara River. The causes of internal displacement and increased flows of forced migration are related to climate, economic and social factors. According to UNHCR data, Russia had 178,000 stateless persons registered at the beginning of 2020. According to the IOM’s “World Migration Report 2020”, the Russian Federation has long been a major destination for Central Asian migrant workers due to its significantly higher wages and job opportunities. For migrants from rural Kyrgyzstan, labour migration has become a coping strategy as Kyrgyz migrant workers seek work in the provinces of Siberia and are becoming increasingly numerous. The large number of Kyrgyz people already established in Russia are able to provide assistance in finding housing and work for their arriving compatriots. Not all Central Asian migrants possess limited professional qualifications, however. Migrants from Kazakhstan are mostly students and highly qualified professionals. People from Central Asia also migrate to other parts of Europe and China, where they may have family and work links. A growing number of Central Asians are also moving to Turkey and South Korea to find employment. Migration to South Korea has been facilitated by bilateral labour agreements with countries including Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
According to statistics from the Ministry of the Interior, in 2018 two Syrian refugees were granted asylum in Russia, and the number of those with temporary asylum status decreased from 1,128 on 1 January 2018 to 826 one year later (a drop of almost 30%). In reality, 828 Syrians had been granted asylum status in Russia by the end of 2018. According to Ministry of the Interior estimates, 9,100 Syrian citizens were residing in the Russian Federation by the end of October 2018. This number also includes Syrian embassy staff and their families as well as Syrians who arrived in Russia before the beginning of the conflict. Despite the war having destroyed much of the country and people having fled Syria en masse, the number of Syrians in Russia has changed little since 2012.
Russia is affected by human trafficking. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, economic instability and looser travel restrictions abroad have led to an increase in human trafficking. In the Soviet era, there were no laws against this practice. New laws were introduced in 2003 to make human trafficking a crime. The Russian Criminal Code (Articles 127.1 and 127.2) condemns crimes of enslavement and trafficking for sexual purposes. These articles prescribe a punishment of up to five years’ hard labour or up to six years’ imprisonment.
According to the US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2020, while Russia is making increasing efforts in the fight against human trafficking, it does not fully meet the minimum requirements for the elimination of trafficking. The process of identifying victims and treatment referral is inadequate. Some NGOs do provide protection, interpretation and mediation services, clothing, food, legal services, and assistance for the resettlement or repatriation of victims. In July 2018, the Russian authorities cooperated with international NGOs to help Nigerian, Ukrainian and Uzbek victims of sex trafficking and were able to repatriate 40 victims, helping them to obtain the necessary documents. In the same year, 19 victims of trafficking were identified. According to law enforcement data,16 of them were Russian and 3 were from Central Asian countries; 10 of them were children. Many were cases of child trafficking. Most of the victims of sexual exploitation in Russia are women and children from Eastern Europe (mainly Ukraine and Moldova), South-East Asia (China and the Philippines), Africa (in particular Nigeria) and Central Asia.
A large number of women trafficked in Russia come from Nigeria, where so-called recruitment agencies attract women with bogus promises of employment. The phenomenon of trafficking in women for coercive prostitution also involves women from other African countries, including Ghana, Zimbabwe, Mali, and also former Soviet countries, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Moldova.
Russia is a country of origin, transit and destination for people subjected to sexual and labour exploitation. Labour exploitation is the main motive for trafficking in Russia and sometimes involves organised crime. Workers from Central Asia and East and Southeast Asia, including North Korea and Vietnam, are involved mostly in construction, manufacturing, agriculture, textiles, food, domestic services, forced begging, recycling and street cleaning. Women and children from Eastern Europe, South-East Asia, Africa and Central Asia are subject to sexual exploitation in Russia. At the same time, Russian women and children are trafficked domestically and internationally in North-East Asia, Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the United States and the Middle East.
Central Asia is the main source and region for human trafficking in the former Soviet Union. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian Republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan were not independent political units, and the path to their transformation into independent states has been difficult. Over the last decade, the clear separation of these states from the centralised Russian economy has led them into deep socio-economic and cultural crises. According to the Russian Ministry of Interior, more than 50,000 women and children are taken by Central Asian criminal groups for sexual exploitation, 70% of whom are minors. Trafficked women and children are often used as drug couriers.
Article 27 of the Russian Constitution establishes the right to migration. Over the years, a number of laws concerning the country’s migration policy have been adopted:
In 1993, Russia ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 New York Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. Migration legislation dates back to the 1990s and distinguishes three types of protection. The first is political asylum, introduced by a Presidential Decree of 1997 “on the approval of the Regulation on the procedure for granting political asylum in the Russian Federation”; it is reserved for those who have suffered direct and personal persecution. This is a restrictive, almost archaic definition, which refers to “exile” or “dissident”. In other words, it targets those who demonstrate that they are personally at risk for political reasons. The President of the Republic grants political asylum. In the last 20 years, only 15 people have been granted this form of protection.
The second is refugee status under the 1951 Geneva Convention. Just as for Western countries, a refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution, not only for political but also racial, religious, ethnic and other reasons. The decision on refugee status is taken by the Russian Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for collecting applications and examining them.
The third type is temporary asylum. According to Article 12 of the Federal Law on Refugees, temporary asylum permits foreign nationals to reside temporarily in the territory of the Russian Federation. It is granted by the Ministry of the Interior if there are no requirements for refugee status but there are sufficient humanitarian reasons to guarantee the right of residence. In this case, too, there are only a few beneficiaries: although every year there are about 2,000 applications, just over a hundred of these are actually approved.
In 2015 and again in 2019, amendments to Federal Law No. 115 of 2002 “on the legal status of foreign nationals in the Russian Federation” came into force. Article 13.3 stipulates that foreign workers from countries that do not have an entry visa arrangement with Russia must obtain a work permit legally in the country, must pass a Russian language and history test, and must have medical insurance and pay taxes. The new changes have affected migrant workers from CIS countries, such as Tajikistan, especially. Prior to these changes, they were able to use their national passports to enter and reside in Russia. Now they must present their international passports for permission to travel. There was a slight decline in labour migration flows in 2016-2017, but it is unclear whether entry restrictions were a significant factor. Only foreign citizens arriving in Russia without an entry visa can apply for a work permit. Currently, this provision applies to citizens of Abkhazia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Moldova.
With the start of the military conflict in Ukraine, the influx of asylum seekers and displaced persons into Russia increased considerably. According to data provided by the Federal Migration Service reported by UNHCR, between April 2014 and September 2015 alone, 1,056,587 citizens from Southeast Ukraine were residing in the Russian Federation. In 2014, more than 120,000 Ukrainian citizens applied for asylum, while 138,000 benefited from other forms of legal residence. A series of ordinances have simplified the procedures for asylum application by Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons. They can now apply for asylum at any location of the Federal Migration Service in Russia if they claim to be fleeing a war situation. In such cases, temporary asylum is granted within three days, instead of three months, as was previously the case. In addition, according to UNHCR reports, many Russian-speaking Ukrainians have benefited from the “Programme of Assistance for the Voluntary Resettlement of Compatriots”, reserved for Russian-speaking minorities abroad. Thanks to this Programme, migrants are able to obtain their residence permits for work purposes quickly and can, thus easily obtain Russian citizenship. In the federal district of Lugansk, the closest to Ukraine, more than 65 temporary reception centres have been set up, while throughout Russia there are about 270 centres.
A statistical snapshot using official statistics between January 2014 and September 2015 shows that:
In 2012, implementation began on the “Action Plan for Migration Policy until 2025”. This Plan aims to make immigration policy more balanced and includes the development of legislation that addresses various migratory flows, both long- and short-term (mainly for labour purposes). Implementation of this Action Plan required about 50 legislative amendments to the Federal Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Nationals, on Entry and Residence Procedures in the Country and on Citizenship of 2002, with its last amendment on 10 August 2019. Most of the objectives of the Action Plan have not yet been achieved, however, and remain relevant. For example, immigration programmes with adapted conditions for different categories of migrants do not yet exist, meaning that health workers and low-skilled seasonal workers must comply with the same rules in order to enter the labour market.
In 2006, Russia launched the Assistance Programme for the Voluntary Resettlement of Compatriots Living Abroad, a government initiative to encourage immigration to Russia. At its core is an ethnic component that favours close links to Russian culture and descent. The programme also stresses the importance of the professional and educational achievements of potential migrants. In summer 2014, the Programme was opened to the victims of the conflict in Ukraine (300,000 people) who had arrived in Russia as forced migrants and obtained temporary asylum. Ukrainian citizens were the main group of participants in the Programme in 2014-2015. Currently, more than half of the people who acquire citizenship are participants in the Resettlement Programme. By the end of 2015, about 530,000 people had participated in the Programme and most of them had naturalised.
Caritas is well integrated into parish structures and is present in all four dioceses of Russia. In the Diocese of Novosibirsk, with 1.7 million inhabitants and home to the city with the highest immigration rate in the North Russian region, Caritas set up a canteen for disadvantaged and vulnerable people. This Diocese is also home to the Friars Minor Conventual and the Sisters of the Congregation of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who manage a foster home.
In western Russia, Caritas of the Diocese of St. Clement in Saratov helps mothers and children fleeing Ukraine. Thousands of people have fled the fighting in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk and in the Russian regions of Rostov on Don, Volgograd and Saratov. There, Caritas provides families with food parcels (including special nutritional packages for children), hygiene products, and beds and linen. Caritas Volgograd collects and distributes basic household items, clothes, books, toys, school supplies, etc. The Society of Jesus is present in the northern region of Russia in Novosibirsk and Tomsk. Caritas of the Diocese of St. Clement in Rostov-on-Don provides medicine from Caritas Sochi to refugees in the tent camp in that region.
The Red Cross is active in various regions of Russia. In 2013, with the support of the IOM, the Russian Red Cross in St. Petersburg opened a reception centre to temporarily host migrants. Currently, the Centre provides comprehensive rehabilitation assistance to victims of trafficking. Between 2013-2019, more than 170 refugees, migrants and victims of trafficking from different countries (Ukraine, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Somalia) were temporarily accommodated at the Centre. The centre is designed to host eight people a day, who receive legal and social assistance. In addition, there is a free meal service and distribution of clothing.
Using a grant from the Russian President in 2018, the St. Petersburg Red Cross implemented the “St. Petersburg Information Centre for the Integration and Adaptation of Migrants”. This project included measures to help the integration of migrants and refugees in St. Petersburg, such as free Russian language and computer literacy courses, accompanying refugees and migrants to meet local authorities, and preparing school activities for migrant and refugee children.
The President’s grant is also used to fund the project “Legal and cultural integration of migrants and members of their families in St. Petersburg” that began in 2019-2020. One aim of the project is to teach migrant children the Russian language at educational institutions in St. Petersburg. The project also provides migrants with legal and other advice on issues related to migration legislation, integration into society, socio-economic rights and duties.
IOM and UNHCR are also active on the territory.
The Russian Orthodox Church provides help to state authorities to address the challenges associated with migration. The External Relations Department of the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Synodal Department for Charity and the Social Department of the Orthodox Church of the same Patriarchate coordinate assistance to people who find themselves in difficult circumstances due to illegal migration. The principles and guidelines for aid to migrants were laid down by the Supreme Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2014. One of the fundamental principles of the Russian Orthodox Church’s assistance is not only to provide material support but to respond to difficulties in relationships between citizens and migrants. The Russian Orthodox Church actively promotes the integration of migrants into the socio-cultural environment by teaching them Russian language, history, ethics, culture, traditions and legislation of the country. These activities with migrants are not carried out according to a specific program, but according to needs and the unique situations and characteristics of each parish. In Moscow, the Russian Orthodox Church runs a centre for women and victims of trafficking, offering them accommodation, food and health care.