Russians 'too proud to migrate to West'

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The Independent Online
Western Europe's fears of an uncontrollable tide of migrants from the former Soviet Union are turning out to be unfounded, according to a United Nations report. 'The Russians aren't coming, despite what we heard two years ago,' said Marco Antonio Gramegna of the UN's International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which prepared the survey.

The report argued that most Russians are inhibited from moving abroad because of patriotism, a reluctance to abandon their families and an awareness that the West's streets are not paved with gold. 'A sense of pride and responsibility for the mother country emerged as a major deterrent for Russians who are considering emigration,' said the report, based on interviews last December with about 1,000 Russians.

Mr Gramegna said another factor was the memory of how Soviet authorities depicted emigrants as people who had failed or betrayed their homeland. 'Those who left the country were either 'traitors' or 'those who were not very useful to the society'. We believe that stigma is still very heavy on them.'

Governments in West Europe, and countries such as Poland, Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia, have expressed alarm over the last three years that millions of Russians may seek to move west. Their fears were aroused by the Soviet Union's economic chaos, rising ethnic tensions and the end of restrictions on foreign travel for Soviet citizens. The number of Soviet emigrants rose from 39,000 in 1987 to almost 500,000 in 1990, and the former Soviet interior minister, Viktor Barannikov, predicted in October 1991 that 2.5 to 3 million people would leave in the following five years.

However, with the exception of ethnic Germans moving to Germany, the great majority of emigrants were Jews going to the United States or Israel and Armenians being reunited with their families abroad. Tighter European border controls appear to have cut down illegal immigration. Polish frontier police said this week that they had turned away 53,000 people seeking to enter Poland last year, including 31,000 from the former Soviet Union.

According to the IOM survey, 73 per cent of Russians said that it was unlikely they would seek work abroad even for a few months. A similar response was given by 69 per cent of Ukrainians and 65 per cent of Bulgarians. However, a very different figure was recorded for Albania, the fourth country surveyed, where 77 per cent of respondents said they were likely to seek work abroad.

That appeared to reflect the almost complete breakdown of the Albanian economy, which has resulted in looting, riots, heavy dependence on foreign food aid and an unemployment rate of more than 50 per cent. 'Albanians will keep coming, emigrating from Albania either legally or illegally,' Mr Gramegna said.

He added that migration from other parts of Eastern Europe could increase if the region's economies suffered even more severe damage than at present. The report described the most likely emigrant to the West as a well-educated, unemployed, unmarried man under the age of 34.