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In Russia, no place for illegal immigrant who wants to ‘hustle’ for survival


In the Pribalstylkaya area of St. Petersburg, there are about 50,000 unoccupied flats built for the future.

“Have you ever been surprised by the outcome of a mission, which you thought would be a nightmare only to discover it is one of the most pleasant experiences you have ever had? Whoever painted Russia as a backward nation served the world a bad hand,” those were the words of Sporting Vanguard Editor, Tony Ubani, when The Guardian sought his opinion on the image of Russia he had before coming for the just concluded FIFA World Cup and the condition he found the country.

A reporter from Germany’s Die Welt said the ‘Old habit of imagining Russia as morally inferior is hubris.’Such was the disappointment felt by many foreign journalists at the way Russia was painted as a backward, oppressive and racist society peopled by hot heads, who spent their time doing nothing other than foment trouble across the world.Shortly before the games kicked off, there were fears that Britain would lead the Western Europe to boycott the competition over an espionage spat it had with the host nation.

Such was the anxiety that gripped the world that even when FIFA assured teams and visitors to Russia during the World Cup of their security, many still opted to stay away from the competition. Kathrin Spoerr, who covered the World Cup for Die Welt, recalled how the German media was replete of negative stories on Russia, and how some of her colleagues declared ‘private boycotts’ of the tournament for political reasons.

She argued that determining who should host the games based on morals and politics was wrong, saying, “if the World Cup were awarded on the criteria of political morality, it would be difficult for FIFA to find a suitable host in the future. Neither Turkey, nor Hungary, Italy, Japan, France, Great Britain, the US, Australia, and Africa would qualify since everyone is resting on dead bodies from their past.”

The images presented by the Western media about Russia often contrasted with what the football fans found in the country, which was acknowledged as the best host of the World Cup so far. Like most European countries, Russia has a well-planned welfare system for its citizens, with housing, transportation and food the least of the citizens’ problems.

Every council in Russia is set up in such a way that it caters for the citizens’ needs even in times of abundance. For instance, in the Pribalstylkaya area of St. Petersburg, a town known as the most European of all the Russian cities, there are about 50,000 unoccupied flats built for the children yet unborn.According to a Russian tour guide identified as Elena, most of the houses were built in anticipation of rise in population and other needs.

“We know that some time in the future, children will leave their parents to live on their own. Some will get married and have the need to raise their families outside their parents’ home. When that time comes, there will always be house to accommodate them.“St. Petersburg is a city of about five million people, but there has been much migration from other cities, because of the strategic nature of our city. So, we are ready for any explosion in population when it happens.”

According to Mr. Sunday Oyeyemi Idowu, a Nigerian architect, who has been living in Russia since 1984, the country has a well-planned housing policy that caters for all categories of citizens.He revealed that apart from the houses built by councils, individuals with the money could commission their own flats with developers, who build the flats to their taste.

“What happens is that individuals pay developers to own flats in houses being built by government or companies. You can pay for as many flats as you want and after the construction you will get the keys to the flats.“You hardly see any bungalow or one-storey building because the people know how to maximise space. In Nigeria, a couple can build a four-bedroom bungalow on a land that should occupy a building that could take up to 500 families. That is pure waste of land. If you built a 25-storey building in a space occupied by a bungalow, more than 100, 000 families can get flats to leave in.
“But one has to be careful because there are fraudsters ready to dupe unsuspecting prospective flat owners. The MMM that duped a lot of people in Africa, duped so many of my Russian friends that paid money for flats in a building they never built. But there are laws to protect the individual in such cases.”Although Russia may look like a well-planned paradise for the citizens, Idowu said the reality is that it has little or no room for the illegal immigrant, who wants to ‘hustle’ for survival.

According to Idowu, for the foreigner, especially black man, who thinks he can migrate and make a living in Russia, life would be hell.He says, “Russia is not like other parts of Europe. In Europe, if you don’t have a job, you get financial support from the government. In Russia, they don’t have such policies for their citizens, so there is nothing like that for a foreigner, somebody from Africa.

“The economic policies are against the foreigner and not all the cities in Russia are like Moscow and St. Petersburg. The small cities have their own different problems to contend with. Those small cities are still better than Nigeria, though, in terms of 24 hours of electricity, water supply and other amenities, there is no job for a foreigner, no matter how qualified the person is, if he is not a citizen.” Idowu added that students fare better, because they usually have money to take care of their needs.

“I had some of the best times of my life as a student here. But as a worker, things have not been so easy. I don’t advise even my brother to come here to look for work. First, you must learn the language because only a few understand English. And again, there is no work for the foreigner. “Russia is not England, America or other European countries. Russian citizens and people from the other small countries that were formerly in the Soviet Union are doing the odd jobs you find in other European countries.

“You can only do the job you created by yourself and there is a law that you must employ the citizens. There are some jobs you cannot employ a foreigner unless he has the citizenship. “If you do not abide by the laws, they can close your business or fine you heavily.”

Idowu, who is from Ilewe, Oke-Ogun Division, Kejara Local Council of Oyo State, came to Russia in 1984 on a BEA Scholarship and has lived in St. Petersburg since then. He has seen the changes in Russian life from the communist era to the present and currently serves as an unofficial ambassador for Nigerians in St. Petersburg. He is one of the few foreigners, who have made a success of their stay in Russia. He is now a full produce merchant.

“I saw Russia changing from socialism to democracy and it offered business opportunities for those with the eye for business. That was how I left architecture to delve into full business. At that time, majority of the produce and other essential commodities were formerly provided for the citizens by the government, but the advent of free trade opened opportunities for some of us.

“The government was supplying cocoa, cashew nuts, groundnuts and other things to companies, but now the window was opened for individuals to supply those things and we capitalised on it.“We started a company that supplied cashew nuts, cocoa beans and ground nuts and others from Nigeria. But when the quality of Nigerian products dropped and companies were no longer buying our goods, we started getting our supplies from India, Singapore and Brazil.” However, he dismissed the image of Russia as a racist enclave, saying the country is one of the most accommodating of all European nations.

“To be frank, St. Petersburg is like the most European city in the whole of Russia. St. Peter the Great opened the gates of St. Petersburg to Europe before the revolution. But the revolution took Russia back to the old ways and changed the capital to Moscow. Notwithstanding that, the historical position of the city ensured that everybody coming to Russia always wanted to visit St. Petersburg and because of that the Old Russian regime made the city a centre of Russian excellence, accommodating everybody. It is a tourist city that accommodates everybody. But there are still those who don’t believe in equality. “In every European country, even in America, there is a lot of discrimination against races. It is not only in Russia. The whites see the blacks as opponents, who can take everything if left to compete with them on equal terms. There is a limit to what a black can do in this place.’’

Russia is not England, America or other European countries. Russian citizens and people from the other small countries that were formerly in the Soviet Union are doing the odd jobs you find in other European countries. You can only do the job you created by yourself and there is a law that you must employ the citizens for certain tasks. There are some jobs you cannot employ a foreigner unless he has the citizenship. If you do not abide by the laws, they can close your business or fine you heavily.

In this article:
Christian Okpara
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