Russia’s police detained thousands of migrants in raids on crowds as they gathered near metro stations, central squares and other popular celebration areas in cities across the country on New Year’s Eve, according to reports in the Russian media outlets of Fontanka and Bumaga.

Such swoops were reported in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Chelyabinsk and other towns where large numbers of migrant workers are located.

About 3,000 migrants were detained in Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, according to Russia’s RIA state news agency, which cited an unnamed law enforcement agency source as saying: “As it turned out, more than 600 of the migrants have been in Russia with various violations of migration legislation.”

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Russia’s SOTA online news outlet said on its Telegram channel that a man from Tajikistan dressed as Santa Claus was among the migrants detained in Moscow.

The authorities categorized these large-scale police actions as necessary to detect suspected illegal immigrants and criminals. It follows reports of similar actions during the previous year’s celebrations and a number of accounts in 2023, such as that in French newspaper Le Monde, of frequent police roundups of migrant workers, mainly from Central Asian countries. The roundups targeted those with recently acquired Russian citizenship who had failed to register for compulsory military service.

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Some were immediately handed military summonses, while others were forcibly taken to military enlistment offices. It is not clear whether military subpoenas were issued to those detained on Monday, but it is considered to be likely in many cases. RIA claimed that more than 100 of those arrested faced immediate deportation, which had been used as a pretext earlier in the year to persuade offenders to enlist, allowing them and their families to remain in Russia.

The presence of a large migrant workforce in Russia was acknowledged in a December press conference by President Vladimir Putin who said that the country hosts over 10 million labor migrants and implied they should be encouraged to play a role in the so-called “special military operation,” as he still refers to his war in Ukraine.

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