MOSCOW A leading Moscow university ordered its foreign students yesterday to stay in their dormitories for the next three days due to fears of ethnic violence before and after Adolf Hitlers birthday, which is today.
The move by Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy is seen as underscoring the failure of Russian authorities to stem the xenophobia and racism that are feeding a marked rise in hate crimes.
At least 22 people have been killed and more than 130 injured in apparent hate crimes in Russia this year, according to the Sova human rights center. Last year, 53 people were killed and 460 injured in violence linked to xenophobia, Sova says.
Hundreds of foreigners at the school were told to stock up on food and warned they would not be let out of the dormitories until Sunday.
A Sechenov Academy official said the school was conducting emergency drills, but conceded that one reason for the measure was to protect foreign students from potential violence around the anniversary of Hitlers birth, April 20, 1889.
Skinheads tend to become more violent around the Nazi leaders birthday, and in the past have appeared in groups, shouted slogans and staged attacks on dark-skinned foreigners and others who do not appear Slavic.
Students said the main reason for the measure was clearly the fear of violence.
It is nice that the university is taking care of us, but on the other hand its absurd that our freedom is being limited because of some militant groups, said Liah Ganeline, a second-year medical student from Israel.
In a normal, democratic country the authorities dont obey the interests of these groups, but on the contrary protect people from them, she told the Associated Press.
Only physicians in training were being allowed to go out, along with students who signed a statement taking responsibility for their own safety and received approval from university officials, she said. Others were given permission to miss classes.
Ganeline said that last year skinheads threw firebombs at her dormitory in the southern part of Moscow after shouting offensive slogans and giving the Nazi salute.
She said the dorm, which houses about 500 students from Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, has been locked down every April 20 the past several years. She said officials always call it a fire safety drill.
Sergei Baranov, acting dean of the universitys foreign students department, first said the school was conducting emergency drills through tomorrow.
Pressed about why only foreign students were involved in the exercise, Baranov then acknowledged the university also wanted to protect students from possible violence.
We are trying to kill two birds with one stone during these days the danger of some incidents is higher, he said.
Ganeline bought two cartons of milk, four containers of yogurt, apples, and corn and prepared to spend the next three days isolated in the dorm with fellow students.
Its horrible that this is happening, she said, referring to the growing threat to foreigners in Russia. She said another university dorm housing several hundred foreign students in central Moscow was subject to similar restrictions.
I feel disgusted by these things, Alex, a 22-year-old student from Azerbaijan, said by telephone from the same dormitory where Ganeline lives. They are restricting our freedom.
He declined to give his last name out of fear of angering university officials.
In the past, Moscow authorities have also closed some outdoor markets, where many traders are dark-skinned foreigners, for several days before Hitlers birthday to avoid violence.
Rights activists say authorities are doing little to combat growing racism. They say obvious hate crimes are regularly classified as mere hooliganism, some ultranationalist websites are allowed to operate, and some lawmakers openly support radical nationalist groups or ideas.