TASHKENT/Jan. 21 (The Bulletin) — A fire at a labourers’ camp in Siberia killed at least 10 migrant workers from Uzbekistan, highlighting, once again, the often poor safety standards for workers from Central Asia living in Russia.
Officials from the Russian emergencies ministry said that the fire broke out early in the morning at a single storey hut in a village near the city of Tomsk that had been built specifically to house migrant workers from China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The labourers worked at a nearby sawmill for a Chinese company. Russian news agencies said that the fire was likely caused by a short circuit in a heater. A criminal investigation has been launched.
“As of 13:00, the bodies of 11 dead people were found in the building. On their own accord, two people escaped from the house, they received medical care, and hospitalisation was not required,” the Tomsk department of the Russian emergencies ministry reported.
The emergencies ministry did not say what nationality the other dead worker was.
Russia provides a vital source of income and employment for workers from Central Asia who send back millions of dollars in remittances each year. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are most reliant on remittance flows from Russia, which make up around 50% of their economies, but Uzbeks send back the largest amount of money.
Each year, especially in winter when often sub-standard heating equipment is used to warm unsafe housing, fires kill dozens of migrant workers. Already earlier this year, a fire in a warehouse in Moscow killed eight migrant workers from Vietnam. In 2016, one of the deadliest for migrant workers from Central Asia in Russia, seven Tajiks died in one house fire near Tomsk and 17 Kyrgyz died in another fire near Moscow.
The Tomsk regional governor, Sergei Zhvachkin, visited the burnt-out hut a few hours after the fire had been extinguished.
“People were living in a structure that was not intended for it, and which also had barred windows,” he said in a statement. “Investigators will establish the cause of the blaze and the guilty will be punished.”
— This story was first published in issue 435 of the weekly Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin