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Marginalized But Indispensable – What the Crocus City Hall Attack Means for Central Asian Migrants

As previously reported by TCA, in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hall on the outskirts of Moscow which left 144 dead and 551 injured, Central Asian migrants in Russia have been living in a climate of fear. “There is panic, many people want to leave [Russia],” Shakhnoza Nodiri from the Ministry of Labor of Tajikistan said of the outflow of labor migrants. “We are now monitoring the situation; we have more people coming [to Tajikistan] than leaving.” One of the most remittance-based economies in the world, in 2023 official figures released by the Ministry of Labor, Migration and Employment of Tajikistan - often underestimated - stated that 652,014 people left the country to work abroad, largely to Russia. According to the World Bank, in 2022 remittances made by migrants accounted for 51% of the country’s GDP. As anticipated, despite the U.S specifically warning the Russian authorities that the Crocus City Hall was a potential target, whilst seeking to lay the blame for the attack on Ukraine, the Russian Government is intensifying its control over migrants. On April 1, a Ministry of Internal Affairs' spokesperson announced that the regulations will include mandatory fingerprinting and photographing of all foreigners upon entry into Russia, a reduction in the legal duration of stay from 180 days to 90 days, and the registration of migrants and their employers. In addition, whereas in the past a migrant could only be deported following a court's decision, this will no longer be the case. Against this backdrop, on April 3, the Davis Center at Harvard University hosted a seminar entitled, “The Crocus City Hall Terror Attack and Its Repercussions for Central Asians and Central Asia.” Opening the discussion, Yan Matusevich, a Ph.D. Candidate in Cultural Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, highlighted the fact that the “migration system has been in place for a very long time [and] the Central Asian migrant community in Russia has lived through crisis after crisis. But there are not a lot of alternatives out there,” he started, “so it's really hard to disentangle oneself from that. It’s been difficult for migrants for a long time, but they also know how to navigate the system, as violent and oppressive as it is. “Migrants are also under a lot of pressure to join the war effort, because a lot of Russians have left fleeing mobilization. Migrants are very resilient, though, and paradoxically, because there is such a major labor deficit in Russia, there are a lot of employment opportunities. Bringing in brigades of migrants in uniforms who are completely segregated and work in slave-like conditions would be the Russian ideal, but the problem is the reality doesn't match up given the dependence on migratory labor.” Malika Bahovadinova, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Amsterdam, addressed the “ambiguity” migrants face over whether their “status is legal or illegal.” Criminalization of migration laws has been a trend since 2013, she argued, with increased tracking...

Russian-Tajik Singer Upsets Some in Russia with Comments After Moscow Attack

A Tajikistan-born singer who performed for Russia at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest is under scrutiny in Russia for comments about the brutal treatment of several suspects after the mass killing at a Moscow music venue on March 22. Manizha Sangin has condemned the attack that killed 144 people and said the perpetrators should face the “harshest punishment” allowed under the law. But her statement that some suspects suffered “public torture” after they were detained could be subject to an official inquiry, according to reports. Videos released on social media after the arrest of several suspects from Tajikistan appeared to show that they had been severely beaten. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack at the Crocus City Hall in which gunmen fired indiscriminately at civilians in the auditorium and other areas of the complex. In an initial video, a tearful Sangin said she was glad that her grandmother, who died more than a decade ago, was not alive to witness distressing events in recent years. She also said the “atrocities” in Moscow last month had been met with “public torture.” One response on Sangin’s Instagram feed was caustic: “What did grandma say about not killing innocent people? Or is it only Russians who need to learn patience, and only they are expected to forgive? What would grandma say if innocent people were shot at a concert in Dushanbe?” Facing such criticism, Sangin followed up with another video and a statement in which she clarified that she did not seek to justify the actions of the killers. “It is important not to imitate an inhuman value system, this is what separates us from terrorists,” said Sangin, while urging people not to foment “differences” with Tajiks and other people from Central Asia. Many migrants seek work in Russia despite harsh conditions and discrimination, and there have been scattered reports of increased harassment of Central Asians in Russia since the Moscow attack. Sangin, 32, sang “Russian Woman” at the Eurovision contest and her performance seemed aimed at symbolizing inter-ethnic harmony in Russia. But she was denounced online and promoters canceled many of her concerts after she criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The singer, who has campaigned against domestic violence and has supported charities, said any furor over her recent remarks about the Moscow attack is misplaced. “In no way do I want my words to become a cause of discord in our society,” she said. “My condolences once again to all those affected by this monstrous tragedy. You don't deserve to go through the inflated scandals in the media.”

Man with Kyrgyzstan Links Among Suspects in Moscow Attack

A man originally from Kyrgyzstan is among the suspects detained in the attack on a Moscow concert hall that killed about 140 people, according to media reports. The man, identified as Alisher Kasimov, allegedly rented an apartment to men who carried out the attack on the Crocus City complex on Friday night. He appeared in court on Tuesday and did not show signs of having been beaten or tortured, as was the case with some other suspects. Videos circulating on social media showed a distraught woman purported to be Kasimov’s mother. In the videos, the woman says Kasimov is innocent and that he did not know that he was renting an apartment to people who were plotting an attack. Kasimov denounced his Kyrgyz citizenship in favor of Russian nationality in 2014. Several migrant laborers from Tajikistan were charged with terrorism Sunday night for their alleged role in the devastating assault with rifles and explosives. The attack has focused attention on the large number of Central Asian migrants living – often in grim conditions – in Russia, as well as the possible vulnerability of some of them to recruitment by extremist groups. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Crocus City killings. Russia has tried to assign blame to Ukraine and the West, without offering evidence.

Extremists See Some Central Asian Communities as Fertile Recruiting Ground

The deadly attack on the Moscow concert hall has focused attention on the large number of Central Asian migrants living – often in grim conditions - in Russia, as well as the possible vulnerability of some of them to recruitment by extremist groups. A Russian court on Sunday charged four migrant laborers from Taijikistan with terrorism in the attack at the Crocus City complex that killed about 140 people on Friday night, according to various media reports. The men appeared to have been badly beaten prior to their court appearances. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack. While Tajikistan has expressed concern that “fake information” about who was behind Moscow could scapegoat its citizens, terrorism experts have noted in recent years that extremists see some Central Asian communities as fertile ground for recruitment. A U.N. Security Council report last year highlighted the activities of the Islamic State branch in the historical Khorasan region, which includes Afghanistan and parts of Iran and southern Central Asia. The branch is known as ISIL-K. “Regional Member States estimated current ISIL-K strength at between 1,000 and 3,000 fighters, of whom approximately 200 were of Central Asian origin, but other Member States believed that number could be as much as 6,000,” the U.N. report said. It said the group’s propaganda magazine publishes in Pashto, Iranian, Tajik, Uzbek and Russian, and that outreach in the Tajik and Uzbek languages was “noteworthy” after an Uzbek national named Rashidov joined its media wing. Rashidov was recruited online while working as a migrant in Finland and he then moved to Afghanistan, the report said. The Islamic State branch is “bolstering its campaign to appeal to Central Asians in their home countries and in diasporas abroad,” Lucas Webber and Riccardo Valle wrote in a Hudson Institute analysis last year. It seeks to take advantage of “the deep-seated grievances that are present across Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan,” they wrote. Russia’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war as well as past campaigns in Chechnya and Afghanistan have made it a potential target for Muslim extremists, according to terrorism analysts. By some estimates, 10% of Tajikistan’s workforce of more than five million people have migrated to Russia. The vast majority are men. Most leave Tajikistan legally, though some end up in violation of the law because of administrative problems or more serious offenses. Workers’ remittances accounted for about one-third of Tajikistan’s annual GDP in 2019, according to the bank report. Tajik officials have been trying to generate job growth to reduce the economy’s dependency on money sent by its citizens abroad. In Russia, many migrants live in hostels and overcrowded apartments, enduring poor hygiene and health. “The majority of migrants, low skilled and economically desperate, are willing to accept any working conditions. Most migrants also have nearly zero legal literacy,”  the Asian Development Bank said in a 2020 report on labor migration in Tajikistan. “These conditions can lead to labor exploitation by employers and police abuse and extortion by criminal gangs,” the report...

Death Toll Rises to 137, as Russia Continues With Ukraine Narrative

On Monday, the Kremlin updated the death toll from Friday’s terror attack at the Crocus City Hall to 137, with another 182 confirmed injured. This came after the four suspects appeared in court, charged with committing a terrorist act. Russia’s former president and prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, spoke of imposing the death penalty for the first time in Russia since 1996, stating, “Should they be killed? Necessary. And it will be. But it is much more important to kill everyone involved. Everyone. Who paid, who sympathized, who helped. Kill them all.” In the wake of the devastating attack, Russia has escalated security measures at crucial transportation centers and postponed several public gatherings including concerts and at sports events. The recent violence undermines the sense of safety and order within its borders that many Russians have long associated with President Vladimir Putin's reign. Despite the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State group (ISKP) having claimed responsibility for the mass shooting on Friday night, releasing video footage related to the attack and claiming sole responsibility, Russia has continued to attempt to pin responsibility on Ukraine. On Monday, Maria Zakharova, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, wrote in an article for the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, “Attention – a question to the White House: Are you sure it’s Isis? Might you think again about that?” As those detained were apprehended carrying Tajik passports, a large numbers of Tajik migrants who live in Russia, many enduring difficult conditions in hostels while struggling to find work, are now living in fear of reprisals. Tajikistan was among several Central Asian states that condemned the attack and sent condolences to relatives and friends of the dead. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan spoke by telephone to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, Kazakhstan’s presidential press office said. “The head of our state strongly condemned the brutal act of violence against civilians and reaffirmed solidarity with Russia in the fight against terrorism,” the press office said. Kazakhstan has offered the help of its law enforcement agencies to Russia if needed and Uzbekistan’s presidential office said those responsible for the attack “will be assured of the inevitability of punishment.” Bouquets of flowers were laid outside the Russian embassy in Astana, Kazakhstan. Video recorded by witnesses at the Moscow venue showed several gunmen roaming the atrium and other parts of the entertainment complex, opening fire on civilians. A large blaze also broke out at the building during the attack and was later extinguished. On Feb. 27, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke of threats coming from extremists in Afghanistan and prioritized “ensuring military security in the Central Asian strategic area.” Shoigu said the number of ISKP militants in Afghanistan had increased by 15% in the past year. He said their key objectives were to spread radical ideology and to conduct subversive activities on the southern borders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The organization, CSTO, is a Russian-led security alliance that includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. “Radicals from Central Asia have accounted for...

Tajikistan Warns Against “Unverified” Reports About Moscow Attack

Tajikistan is warning against “fake information” about the alleged role of Tajik citizens in the attack that killed more than 100 people at a concert venue in Moscow. Tajikistan’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that it had not received confirmation from Russian authorities about any involvement of Tajiks in the attack at the Crocus City complex. The ministry asked media to rely on “official information” distributed by Russian authorities. The Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State group (ISKP) claimed responsibility for the mass shooting on Friday night. Telegram and other social media platforms are swirling with allegations that Tajik citizens were involved. Large numbers of Tajik migrants live in Russia, many enduring difficult conditions in hostels while struggling to find work. “We emphasize that the Tajik side has not received any confirmation from the Russian authorities regarding the currently circulating fake information about the involvement of citizens of Tajikistan,” the ministry said in a statement. “Keep in mind that the dissemination of unverified and unreliable information could harm the citizens of Tajikistan currently abroad,” the ministry said. Russia said it has arrested 11 suspects and that an investigation is ongoing. Tajikistan was among several Central Asian states that condemned the attack and sent condolences to relatives and friends of the dead. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan spoke by telephone to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, Kazakhstan’s presidential press office said. “The head of our state strongly condemned the brutal act of violence against civilians and reaffirmed solidarity with Russia in the fight against terrorism,” the press office said. Kazakhstan has offered the help of its law enforcement agencies to Russia if needed and Uzbekistan’s presidential office said those responsible for the attack “will be assured of the inevitability of punishment.” Several bouquets of flowers were laid outside the Russian embassy in Astana, Kazakhstan. Video recorded by witnesses at the Moscow venue showed several gunmen roaming the atrium and other parts of the entertainment complex, opening fire on civilians. A large blaze also broke out at the building during the attack and was later extinguished. On Feb. 27, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke of threats coming from extremists in Afghanistan and prioritized “ensuring military security in the Central Asian strategic area.” Shoigu said the number of ISKP militants in Afghanistan had increased by 15% in the past year. He said their key objectives were to spread radical ideology and to conduct subversive activities on the southern borders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The organization, CSTO, is a Russian-led security alliance that includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. “Radicals from Central Asia have accounted for a notable share of recent Islamic State-inspired or -directed plots and attacks in the United States, Europe, Turkey, and Iran,” Lucas Webber and Riccardo Valle wrote in a Hudson Institute analysis last year. In September 2022, ISKP – which vehemently opposes Russia’s support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria - claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at the Russian embassy in Kabul...

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