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#12 - JRL 7211
The Guardian (UK)
June 5, 2003
Russia to relocate 600,000 people from the frozen north
By Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow

Up to 600,000 Russians are to be moved from remote parts of Siberia and the Arctic, officials in Moscow announced last week. The move will be one of the biggest population relocations since the Stalin era.

Large swaths of Russia's northern regions, which include mining towns, have decayed since the collapse of communism. Without government subsidies families have been forced to endure poverty and the extreme climate.

The areas to be assisted by the government's programme - which is being partly financed by the World Bank - include Yakutia, in central Russia, Kamchatka, a peninsula north of Japan, and Chukotka in the northeast. Inhabitants would be resettled near urban centres where they could find work and cheap accommodation.

The project, which has been in a pilot phase for several years, has rekindled memories of the forced resettlements that took place under Joseph Stalin, when minorities, such as Chechens and Jews, were moved at the regime's will.

However, the latest effort is intended to provide assistance only to those who want to leave the hostile regions to which they once came in search of the higher wages that the Soviet government paid to miners.

The ministry of economic development and trade said that between 200,000 and 600,000 people would be moved, with a budget of $30m allocated for this purpose in 2003-4.

Mukhamed Tsikanov, the deputy minister of development, said that he wanted companies in the remote areas to use "shift work wherever necessary", and for "people to be resettled wherever possible".

Andrei Markov, the coordinator of a World Bank project called Russia's Northern Restructuring, said: "The idea came in 1998 when the Russian government approached the World Bank for support. We decided to run a pilot project in the coal-mining town of Vorkuta, the nickel town of Norilsk and the gold-rich Susuman district of Magadan."

Norilsk, which began as a gulag, is believed to be Russia's most polluted town. The air there is thick with sulphur which turns the snow yellow, and life expectancy is 10 years below the average for Russia.

Mr Markov described the project - which began last August and will cost an estimated $80m in total - as more a "migration assistance scheme" than resettlement.

He said around 1,800 families had so far applied to take part in the re-location project, 600 of whom had already received housing assistance.

"In Soviet times these places were heavily subsidised by the state [because it] was very interested in developing the areas at all costs to generate natural resources," said Mr Markov. "Since the economic reform [of the 1990s], the subsidies have become unaffordable."

The subsidised industries have been sold to the private sector, which, Mr Markov said, was "downsizing and restructuring", leading to job loses. He said that 800,000 people out of a total population of 11 million had left the affected areas.

"Large groups are still stuck there because they do not have any resources. The federal budget has to pay a lot for the housing and heating costs of keeping them there."

He estimated that the pilot project would help 25,000 people, and that after assessing its outcome, there was a strong possibility that the World Bank would "scale up" the effort, perhaps to the level proposed by the government.

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