An opposition youth group has urged the authorities in Armenian to close local offices of a Russian government agency encouraging and helping Armenians to migrate to Russia.
In a petition circulated last week, the Hima (Now) movement said controversial activities of the Russian Federation Migration Service (FMS) in Armenia are illegal and must be banned.
Hima referred to the Russian government’s Compatriots program that offers employment, accommodation and financial benefits to married residents of former Soviet republics willing to settle in Russia. It is designed to address the country’s serious demographic problems.
The FMS began operating the program in Armenia in 2009 and has reportedly attracted hundreds of Armenian families since then. The program is sparking a growing uproar from local opposition politicians, public figures and media worried about the continuing outflow of people from the country.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian revealed late last month that his government has told Moscow to halt the scheme’s implementation in Armenia. “This issue will be the subject of inter-governmental discussions,” he said.
Narek Babayan, a Hima leader, dismissed these assurances on Tuesday, saying that the government should simply order the FMS to close its offices in Yerevan and several Armenian regions.
“The basis for their activities is a relevant law of the Russian Federation,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “But there is no such law in Armenia.”
“The danger coming from that program is very big because they encourage emigration by whole families,” he said. “Whole families go there for good and all paths of their return are closed.”
Hima also demanded an official explanation in a separate letter sent to the Armenian Foreign Ministry last week. Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian told the group that the FMS offices operate in accordance with a 1997 Russian-Armenian agreement regulating bilateral migration.
Article 1 of the agreement stipulates that it applies to Armenian and Russian nationals residing in each other’s country. Hima leaders say the document is therefore irrelevant to the Compatriots program.
The FMS office in Yerevan on Tuesday refused to comment on the controversy.