There are an estimated 794,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Russia (GSI 2018). Forced labour remains the predominant form of human trafficking in the country. Labour trafficking has been reported in the construction, manufacturing, logging, textile, and maritime industries, as well as in sawmills, agriculture, sheep farms, grocery and retail shops, restaurants, waste sorting, street sweeping, domestic service, and forced begging. Many migrant workers experience exploitative labour conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, non-payment for services rendered, physical abuse, lack of safety measures, or extremely poor living conditions.
Ansar*, a 17-year old from Uzbekistan, travelled to Russia after being offered a job building roofs near Moscow. Ansar was taken to a house with four other workers and gave his documents to his employer. Ansar was not paid for his labour and ran away after it became clear his employer had no intention of paying him.
Before I came to Russia I lived in Uzbekistan with my wife and a child. We lived OK. I worked at a market. They began treating [ethnic] Russians not so well and didn’t employ them. A man approached me at the market and proposed a job. He was unknown to me. He proposed good money and we discussed conditions. I agreed. They needed workers to build roofs in the localities near Moscow. They would pay good money, supply transport, food everything. He asked to me to buy a ticket and said that they would reimburse all travel expenses and gave me his word of honour. He found five more people. He promised to pay 100,000 Roubles between the five of us. He drove us away to a house where we lived. After some time I began asking him about reimbursement of our transport costs, the tickets that we had bought with our money. “All right, all right, tomorrow...” he would say.
Yes, I had them [documents]. Then he asked for my documents, saying that he needed to register something. We gave him our documents. The money was still, “tomorrow, tomorrow”. We began asking for our documents - “Never mind, they are being registered.” At the beginning, the work was quite normal. We began breaking the roof, doing all the preparatory work for the construction of a new roof. Then he asked if we had money. We answered affirmatively. He said: “Just now I cannot pay you, maybe you can buy your own food? And he promised to pay us the following week. We worked and ate at our own expense. And then it turned out that he disappeared and new bosses came to this construction site. We met them for the first time, and they said that this site belonged to them. We demanded our payment for the work we had done, but they did not give us our money.
No, nothing was written, it was only oral discussion. He gave the impression of being a serious man, but it appeared that he was not. We even lived in a kind of stable. And then we became short of money and had nothing to go home with. I began earning money differently: making boxes and selling them. It was just to cover telephone calls to my wife, to say “I am OK, they’ve promised to pay”. I lied in order not to let her worry. Then they began watching us. In the morning we went to work. Work finished and we went in a car to the place where we lived. They still held our documents. They beat us on our heels, fastened us to posts and caned us. They had rubber sticks. To eat, they only gave us a couple of loaves of bread and that was all. Then we managed to run away. At night I asked to go to the lavatory. I had learnt judo recently and I used it on the guard... I unlocked the door for the boys. Two of them ran with me. Two replied, “We won’t go”. I said: “Do you intend to suffer?” And they joined us. We run towards a highway. A lorry was driving by. We asked to get into the back and concealed ourselves under sacks and in that way reached Omsk. We thought that in Omsk we would meet Uzbeks at markets and together with them we would reach Uzbekistan. We found out where a market was situated and approached some Uzbeks at the market. We asked them who was going to Uzbekistan. One Uzbek told us, “If you want to go to Uzbekistan, it will cost you big money - 1000 dollars. We explained to him that we had no documents. He answered that it was not a problem and that they would conceal us in the back of a lorry. We thought it over and began haggling with them. He insisted on 1’000 dollars. And I realized that the Uzbeks had similar groups of dealers. They could easily re-sell us some where during the trip. They spoke between themselves, but I understand their language a bit, and it made me suspicious.
Plans for the future...? We have no documents. We have chosen a thermal track, we will live there. It seems a calm and quiet place.
No [I have not tried to contact law enforcement agencies]. You cannot believe them either. If you contact them, they will immediately return you and that’s all. They all are tied up in the same business. As for work, nobody is employing, especially migrants without documents, without anything.
No, I gave up with building. Everyone is a fraud.
[I have been in this situation] Since last summer. By the end of the summer it will be a whole year.
Narrative credit to International Labour Organization
Original narrative found in report ‘Forced Labour in the Russian Federation Today: Irregular Migration and Trafficking in Human Beings’