Moscow university: foreign students not to leave dormitories

A Moscow university ordered its foreign students to remain at their dormitories for three days because of danger of ethnic violence before Adolf Hitler's  birthday.

Hundreds of students at the prestigious Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy were told to stock up on food and warned they would not be let out of the dormitories through Saturday in an attempt to protect them amid a marked rise in hate crimes.

In the past, some members of ultra nationalist groups have marked Hitler's birthday with attacks on ethnic minorities.

"It is nice that the university is taking care of us, but on the other hand it's 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 don't obey the interests of these groups, but on the contrary protect people from them," she told The Associated Press by telephone.

Ganeline said authorities have locked down her dormitory in southern Moscow- which houses about 500 students from Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus - every April 21 for the past several years. Officials, she said, call it a fire safety drill.

Ganeline said, however, that all students were aware of the real reason, and noted that someone had scrawled the word "skinheads" over an announcement of the lockdown posted on a dormitory wall. Last year, she said, a group of skinheads approached the dormitory, shouted offensive slogans, gave the Nazi salute and threw firebombs at the building.

Only practicing physicians in training were allowed to leave the building, she said, along with students who had signed a statement they were responsible for their own safety and had received approval from university officials. Others were given permission to miss classes.

Ganeline said she had bought two cartons of milk, four containers of yogurt, apples, corn and rolls of toilet paper and prepared to spend the next three days isolated in the dorm with fellow students.

"It's horrible that this is happening," she said, referring to the rising xenophobic sentiments in Russia.

She said another university dormitory housing several hundred students in central Moscow was subject to similar restrictions.

University officials declined immediate comment.

"I feel disgusted by these things," Alex, a 22-year-old student from Azerbaijan, said by telephone, adding that he would not set foot outside the dormitory for the next three days. "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 closed down some outdoor markets, where many traders are dark-skinned foreigners, for several days before the anniversary date to avoid violence.

Russia has seen a marked rise in racism and xenophobia over the past several years, with nonwhite or dark-skinned residents, foreigners and Jews bearing the brunt of the violence.

According to the human rights center Sova, which monitors xenophobia, 53 people were killed in 2006 and 460 others were injured in apparent hate crimes.

Activists say authorities do little or nothing to combat the problem and that obvious hate crimes are regularly classified as mere hooliganism.

Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau for Human rights, said authorities should do more to prosecute hate groups and protect foreign students rather than subject them to restrictions.

"The activity of radicals is significantly increasing," he said. "But the decisions of the university officials ... must not violate the freedom of movement of foreigners."

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