DUSHANBE — Some Tajik migrant workers in Russia say they were beaten by police and deported on fabricated criminal charges for refusing to fight in Ukraine.
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The allegations come as Russian officials continue to target migrant workers from Central Asia in an effort to shore up Moscow’s depleted troops in Ukraine, according to migrants and rights activists.
Mansur Hojiev, a 30-year-old Dushanbe resident, was deported from Russia in October just weeks after declining to sign a contract to join the Russian Army, the former migrant worker says.
Hojiev told RFE/RL his problems began when he approached migration officials in September to complete paperwork to obtain Russian citizenship.
“During my appointment at the migration office in the Sverdlovsk district in Perm Province on September 12, officials told me that I need to sign a contract to go to war [in Ukraine] or my citizenship application would be rejected,” Hojiev said.
The holder of a valid residency permit, Hojiev said he didn’t sign the contract and decided to continue living and working in Russia without trying to get citizenship.
But two weeks later Hojiev was summoned to the migration office where officials allegedly demanded that he sign a statement admitting to taking illegal drugs.
“Four masked men handcuffed me there, put a plastic bag over my head, and pushed me into a van like a cow,” he claimed. “They drove me to some forest, [attaching wires] to my arms and legs and giving me electric shocks.”
Hojiev told RFE/RL that under duress he signed a fabricated confession that he was caught by police while taking narcotics.
The next day, the Sverdlovsk district court convicted the Tajik migrant of illegal drug use based on a police report and his “confession.” Hojiev was ordered to pay a fine before he was deported to Tajikistan.
RFE/RL repeatedly tried to contact police and court officials in Perm for comment but was unsuccessful.
Rights defenders and migrants in Russia have reported dozens of similar cases of Central Asian workers being pressured into signing contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry amid Moscow’s efforts to bolster its troops in Ukraine.
Just weeks before Hojiev was targeted at the migration office, Russian rights activist Tatyana Kotlyar told the 7X7 Telegram channel that five Central Asian migrants were ordered to sign such military contracts as a precondition for obtaining a Russian passport.
Among them was a Tajik migrant working in Kaluga Province whose citizenship application was rejected after the man said he was unable to join the military on medical grounds, Kotlyar said.
Kotlyar wrote on Facebook afterward that the migrant filed a complaint to Russian authorities. But in response, “a protocol was drawn up against him [by police] for a violation that did not exist,” the activist said.
Valentina Chupik, the director of Tong Jahoni, a human rights NGO in Russia, has repeatedly spoken about officials’ campaign to recruit migrant workers into the army using force, intimidation, or strong incentives such as the promise of fast-tracked citizenship.
The total number of Central Asian citizens who have gone to war in Ukraine is unknown.
Dushanbe resident Anvar, who gave only his first name, claims he was ordered by officials at the Sakharovo migration center in Moscow to sign a military contract in March.
“I told them that I don’t want to go war. They insulted me and beat me,” he told RFE/RL. “They kicked me in my lower back.”
Anvar said he was kept in detention for 17 days before being deported to Dushanbe for allegedly violating migration rules.
“I have had my all documents in order. I had paid the required three-month fees to extend my work permit; I had also paid the fees on time to prolong my residency documentation,” said Anvar, who maintains he was punished for refusing to go to Ukraine.
Anvar’s mother said her son returned home “badly bruised” and suffering both physical and psychological trauma. He underwent medical treatment for several months.
Hojiev and Anvar haven’t yet found work in Dushanbe. Unemployment is rife in impoverished Tajikistan, which has forced millions to move to Russia where they are vulnerable to threats and pressure put on them by Russian authorities.
Despite being destitute, however, the two said they don’t regret their decision to reject serving in the Russian military in Ukraine.
Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by the RFE/RL Tajik Service and the Central Asia Migrant Unit