ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - A leaflet depicting migrant workers as talking work tools has stirred outrage among human rights activists in Russia’s second largest city and prompted accusations of state-sponsored xenophobia.
The leaflet, whose authors say it was intended to promote tolerance, provides advice on medical assistance, safety and observing immigration rules. It has cartoons depicting migrant workers as a broom, a paint roller and paintbrushes.
“In fact it sets those who come to us and those who live here against each other. It has nothing to do with promoting tolerance,” Alexander Shishlov, human rights ombudsman for St. Petersburg, told the RIA news agency.
One picture shows the animated tools smiling as they wait at an airport. The Russians greeting them, who include a doctor and a policeman, are all depicted as human beings.
Another drawing shows the “tools” facing a doctor who tells them how to avoid being infected with AIDS and says that by law they should go home immediately if they test positive.
Russia attracts millions of migrants from former Soviet Union states, which depend on their remittances.
In cities they are often attacked by skinheads and other nationalists, and are easy prey for corrupt police who extort bribes for minor violations. Polls show xenophobia increasing.
Many migrants toil at construction sites for meager salaries and live in crowded barracks where infectious diseases are widespread and which are regularly raided by the Federal Migration Service.
The leaflet, which was approved by St. Petersburg mayor’s office, tells migrants not to wear tracksuits, not to go outdoors in bathrobes and avoid wearing national dress to avoid “attracting attention which is not always needed”.
The “Look Into The Future” charity, which published the brochure, said it saw no problem with it, adding the cartoons’ impact had been tested on focus groups before release.
“No single migrant expressed a negative attitude or outrage. None of them associated themselves with these characters,” said Gleb Panfilov, the charity’s head.
Reporting by Liza Dobkina writing by Gleb Bryanski; editing by Andrew Roche