For migrant workers, Olympic dream turns to nightmare in Sochi

Wed Feb 5, 2014 5:12am EST
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By Aleksandar Vasovic and Maja Zuvela

BELGRADE/BILECA (Reuters) - When Sasa Matic was offered a job on a building site in Sochi, he suspected it was too good to be true.

Yet he and scores of others from Serbia and Bosnia heeded the siren call of Russia's 2014 Winter Olympics, seduced by the prospect of earning more in two months than most Serbs or Bosnians pocket in a year.

"It was a dodgy deal, but I thought: it's only two months. The money was good, and I needed it," said Matic, an unemployed 41-year-old from the western Serbian town of Sabac.

He was just one of thousands of migrant workers recruited mainly from ex-Soviet Central Asia but also from the Balkans to work on the $50 billion construction of the Sochi Games, a prestige project of huge importance for Russia's image at home and abroad.

For Matic, however, it quickly turned into a nightmare.

The Serbian government repatriated more than 100 Balkan workers last month after they were detained by Russian police for working illegally.

Matic escaped and spent a week train-hopping and hitchhiking before finally walking into Serbia across its northern border with Hungary.

Speaking to Reuters, Matic described how after a 27-hour bus ride to Sochi, he was given lodgings in an empty room and put to work as a plasterer without a contract or the necessary visa. He rigged a light bulb in his room with a scavenged power cable.   Continued...

Construction workers walk through the mountain media village on top of the village of Esto Sadok at the Rosa Khutor alpine resort near Sochi, February 2, 2014. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler