Russian firefighters battle the blaze in theMoscow
Russian firefighters battle a blaze (file photo) Getty

At least 16 people have been killed after a blaze swept through a print warehouse to the north of Moscow in the early hours of Saturday morning (27 August). Most of those who died are thought to have been migrant workers from across the former Soviet republics who were sleeping where they worked.

Moscow police opened a criminal investigation into the blaze which broke out at an industrial area on the Altyevskoye Highway to the north of the city. Four people were taken to hospital with burns and another 12 rescued, before the victims were discovered in a back room. According to the Russian news website RT, a source cited by state news agency RIA Novosti the victims died in their sleep from inhaling smoke.

The Ministry of Emergency Situations said in a statement: "As the fire was being extinguished, the staff found a room cut off by the fire. Firefighters broke through the wall and found 16 bodies there."

Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said on Twitter that an investigation had been launched into the tragedy. "А fire occurred on Altyevskoye highway. Unfortunately, there are a lot of victims. We'll be investigating with the law enforcement bodies."

Many of the estimated one million migrant workers in the Russian capital come from former Soviet republics, such as Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and face discrimination as well as poor working conditions. New regulations are making it harder for migrants to obtain working visas and migrants are forced to pay ₽4,000 (£47) a month to retain the visa, the Guardian reported. On average, migrants in Moscow earn ₽20,000-₽25,000 per month.

There is also hostility towards migrants by some Muscovites who blame them for taking jobs. In some cases, migrants from different countries have also fought one another, including a mass brawl at a cemetery in Moscow in May 2016 in which three people were killed.