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Nationalists Target Central Asians In Siberia: 'You Can Wear A Hijab In The Village But Not In Russia'

NOVOSIBIRSK, Russia -- Nationalists have carried out "raids" against Central Asian-owned small businesses in several Siberian regions as reports of xenophobic incidents continue to rise following the deadly Crocus City Hall terrorist attack near Moscow last month.

In one incident on April 8, members of the Russian People's Squad (RND) entered a pharmacy in Novosibirsk and demanded that a female pharmacist wearing a head scarf be fired if she refused to remove it.

"In Russia, hijabs are [only] worn by radical Islamists," they said.

Participants then left a series of negative reviews about the pharmacy on the digital map 2GIS and the local review service Flamp.

"Russia is not a 'kishlak' (rural Central Asian settlement)! It's a secular state! You can wear a hijab in the village but not in Russia!" wrote one user.

Another connected the pharmacist's wearing of the hijab with the March 22 terrorist attack.

"Either she takes off her hijab and continues to work in a civilized country, or there is no work and no place for her in our society! Or is what happened at Crocus City Hall not enough?"

A woman wearing a head scarf waits at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow.
A woman wearing a head scarf waits at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, Central Asian migrants in Russia detailed how nationalist groups have harassed migrant business owners and employees in their workplaces.

On March 22, Russia's worst terrorist attack in two decades took place at a Moscow-area concert venue. Russian investigators have said the assault was carried out by four men -- all Tajik nationals -- as an offshoot of the Islamic State extremist group took responsibility for the attack that left 144 dead.

Numerous reports across Russia have noted a rise in xenophobic sentiment and attacks against Central Asian migrants, who are also receiving increased attention from police and security officials following the attack.

In connected incidents on April 8, the Russian People's Squad also targeted shawarma sellers in Novosibirsk, demanding the dismissal of any female employees wearing head scarves.

A subdivision of the Army of Defenders of the Fatherland organization, the RND describes its purpose as one of "mutual assistance and joint protection," working to "counter possible sabotage, provocations, lawlessness of ethnic criminal groups, and connivance and incompetence of the authorities."

Authorities did not respond to some of the affected businesses' attempts to report the incidents. Human rights activists from the Civil Initiatives Support Center have also appealed to police to intervene on grounds of religious freedom.

Shakedowns And Vandalism

One local cafe owner, Sasha Shodmonbek, told RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities that this is the first time he has experienced such levels of aggression in seven years of living in Novosibirsk.

"The horror began in March," he said.

While fights and ethnic tensions are not new for his part of the city, according to Shodmonbek, it is only in recent weeks that he feels forced to leave.

"My fellow countrymen predicted that after the Tajiks were detained for the Crocus [City Hall attack], the brutality would begin," he said. "I didn't believe it. But when I was detained three to five times a day for several hours and, after being set free, beaten by those not in uniform, I began to consider leaving."

Mourners place flowers by the Crocus City Hall concert venue following a terrorist attack in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, Russia, on March 25.
Mourners place flowers by the Crocus City Hall concert venue following a terrorist attack in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, Russia, on March 25.

Shodmonbek has decided to stay after his compatriots convinced him that "everything would work out." But he sympathizes with Tajiks who have long-resided in Siberia legally and now "just give up" on a life in Russia.

At the end of March, the outside of Shodmonbek's cafe was vandalized. He made the decision to close down the business before any further incidents occurred.

"My neighbor -- an Uzbek -- was less fortunate. The same ones, I think from the [RND] 'raid,' came inside and broke everything -- dishes, tables. He made a statement to the police, but they still haven't visited him."

Shodmonbek's neighbor declined to speak with journalists, explaining that "at least [the place] wasn't burnt down."

Not only do residents and human rights activists report on the targeting of foreign-owned businesses and migrant labor; authorities themselves acknowledge they are carrying out the raids.

The regional Interior Ministry reported that officials entered one cafe in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk after "discovering a violation of migration legislation."

"Fifty foreign citizens were brought to the police department, their fingerprints and DNA samples were taken, and 16 vehicles in their possession were checked," the ministry's press release notes.

Following the intervention, seven of the 50 foreign citizens were detained and will apparently be deported from Russia.

According to one human rights activist from Krasnoyarsk, the press release omits "how [the migrant workers] were beaten, pushed like sardines into a barrel, and kept without water and food for more than a day."

The raid in Krasnoyarsk is one of thousands of criminal and administrative cases opened across Russia since March 22. Legislative initiatives restricting migrant labor have also been adopted in Siberia's Novosibirsk and Tyumen regions.

Written by Katherine Chapanionek based on reporting by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities

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