Russian policy towards integrating children of migrants:
the gap between the state and the non-profit sector

Igor Mikheev

Migration context in Russia

The last decade of the 20th century has seen an intense growth of migration activity in Russia. While initially it was associated mainly with repatriation migration of the Russian-speaking population from post-Soviet countries, since the beginning of the 2000s, the majority of migrations are economic- and labor-related. Until recently, the main “donor countries” for these migration flows were several CIS countries, however, in recent years, migrants from Central Asia, in particular Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, have been numerically predominant. Most of the international migrants are concentrated in the Central Federal District of the Russian Federation; of these, according to data for 2016, almost 50% are in the Moscow region, which is also a center of attraction for internal migrants1.

Since 2014, there has been an increase in the number of women with children who are oriented toward long-term or circular migration2. Many of the children with migrant backgrounds are deprived of access to even the minimum social support guaranteed by law3. Several international and regional organizations (UNHCR, UNICEF, IOM) regularly draw attention to the plight of children trying to adjust to life in new societies. Russia is no exception here. On a daily basis, children with migrant backgrounds face many social and cultural barriers to the realization of their rights, in particular those associated with access to school education).

Legal ambiguity

Russia, in its demographic composition, includes more than 180 ethnic communities and has a certain legislative framework for the observance of their civil and cultural rights: Article 26 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation: “Everyone has the right to determine and indicate their nationality,” Article 69 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation: “The Russian Federation guarantees the rights of Indigenous Peoples per the generally recognized principles and norms of international law and international treaties of the Russian Federation,” “The Law of National-Cultural Autonomy” (1996), “On the Languages of the Peoples of the Russian Federation” (1998), “The Law on Guarantees of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” (1999)3.

However, these laws and the ethical principles on which they are founded do not regulate or provide assistance with integration into the new culture and are not applied to solving social issues encountered by migrant families. In 2012, at the presidential level, the "Concept of the State Migration Policy of the Russian Federation for the period up to 2025" was approved, which contains general points on the need to work out the issues of including migrants in the host society, and emphasizes the need to reduce the overall level of xenophobia in Russian society.

This concept was supplemented and changed in the autumn of 2018. Substantially, the 2018 version introduced provisions on the turn of migration policy towards creating positive conditions for the return to Russia of the Russian-speaking population who left or lives abroad, mainly from neighboring countries. But as researchers note, even the "strategy (from 2012) does not talk about the [conditions] and problems of ethnocultural development, but, following the key value-target reference point of the concept – state security – only about the creation of state and municipal systems for monitoring the [status] of interethnic relations and early warning of conflict situations"4.

It follows that the legal framework for providing integration measures for families with a migration background is rather vague. Neither the principles nor the criteria of what is meant by the process of integration of migrants are clear. Also, there are no demarcated boundaries that contribute to a more defined idea of ​​the identity of these people and their needs. Thus, the "grey zone" in which children from migrant families find themselves both affects the prospects for their successful inclusion in the host society and creates a gap in the availability of reliable and up-to-date statistical information on the number of migrants who have arrived on the territory of the Russian Federation. One of the results of such a "gray zone" is the absence in Russian federal legislation of a fixed obligation of state authorities to automatically extend the period of stay in Russia of children whose parents have the status of labor migrants, which, according to social researchers, multiplies the risks and instability of the life situation of these families5.

Educating migrant children

Education for children of migrants is the main channel for integration into the host society. By studying at school, the child gets the opportunity not only to learn the language of the host country, but also to establish friendly relationships with peers, which helps them quickly adapt to the new conditions of everyday life. Access to the school system is one of the most important elements in assessing the integration potential of any society, as well as the inalienable right of every child. Russia does not have state programs focused on helping students from other countries adapt to the school space, and also has no specialized Russian language instruction6 7. Each region or city decides for itself how to conduct programs geared towards helping migrant children assimilate8.

In addition to the complex institutional context, radical statements by individual politicians often appear in the Russian media space that: “children of migrants in Russian schools create ethnic groups and bully other students in every possible way.” Such trends are openly reflected in calls to restrict access for children with migrant backgrounds who do not speak Russian to general education schools. One of the latest high-profile statements is the proposal of the head of the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs to create specialized “adaptation centers” in the Russian Federation and within the countries of origin for migrant students. It remains unclear whether such initiatives will be realized and who will be involved in conducting them.


From here, it is fair to ask: is there any practical assistance in modern Russian society for children from families with migration background? At the moment, there are at least three non-profit initiatives actively operating in the central region of the Russian Federation, which in one form or another assist the process of integrating children from families with migrant and forced-displacement backgrounds. These are two organizations: "Same Children" in Moscow and "Children of Petersburg" in St. Petersburg, as well as a specialized program for adaptation and integration in the format of a private lyceum called “Migratory Children.” All initiatives, in one way or another, provide free language training for children with displacement backgrounds, legal support for their families, and aim to help these children enter public schools. The subsequent memo in this series will take a closer look at these organizations.
[1] Nikita Mkrtchian & Iuliia Florinskaia, “Trudovaia migratsiia v Rossii: mezhdunarodnyi i vnutrennii aspekt,” Zhurnal Novoi Ekon. Assotsiatsii 1, no. 37 (2018): 186-193.

[2] Vladimir Mukomel, “Labor migrants in the context of Russian demographic, economic, and social development problems,” in Maria S. Rozanova (ed), Labor migration and migrant integration policy in Germany and Russia (St Petersburg: Print House “Skythia-Print”, 2016), 23-33.

[3] Anna Andriushko, “Integratsiia v rossiiskoe obshchestvo migrantov iz Azerbaidzhana i drugikh stran postsovetskogo prostranstva: sravnitel’nyi analiz,” Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia 11 (2020): 84-95.

[4] Viktoria Antonova & Galina Karpova, “Politika mul’tikul’turalizma na rossiiskoi pochve: est’ li perspektivy?,” The Journal of Social Policy Studies 9, no. 1 (2011): 99-108.

[5] Arsenii Parfenov, “Normativnye osnovy integratsii i sotsiokul’turnoi adaptatsii detei migrantov v stranakh Evropy i Rossii,” Pravo i politika 2 (2019): 1-13.

[6] Daniel Aleksandrov, Vlada Baranova & Valeriia Ivaniushina, “Migrant children and parents in interaction with the Russian school.” Voprosy obrazovaniia/ Educational Studies 1 (2012):176-199.

[7] Ekaterina Demintseva, Daria Zelenova, Elizaveta Kosmidis & Dmitrii Oparin, “Vozmozhnosti adaptatsii detei migrantov v shkolakh Moskvy i Podmoskov’ia,” demograficheskoe obozrenie 4, no. 4 (2017): 80-109.

[8] Ekaterina Demintseva, “‘Migrant schools’ and the ‘children of migrants’: constructing boundaries around and inside school space,” Race Ethnicity and Education 23, no. 4 (2020): 598-612.
  • Igor Mikheev

    Non-resident fellow at the Russia Program's Global Academy

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