Uprooted from their countries by civil war and persecution, and lacking the visas and connections to travel to a more prosperous country, refugees from the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries used to find safe haven here.

"Moscow was the only place we could even think of coming to," said Vadim Khachaturyan, an Armenian refugee who arrived in 1989 from Azerbaijan. "It was the capital of the Soviet Union, the seat of law, and we thought we would be protected here."Yet today, just 10 months after Russia formally agreed to abide by the United Nations Refugee Convention and Protocol, Moscow is trying to close its doors to non-Russians.

Refugees like Khachaturyan, who arrived in Moscow wearing the slippers in which he fled Baku, are facing new pressures to pack their bags again and move.

These include the government's threat to carry out a decree forcing refugees to move from hotels and dormitories into military barracks.

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"If this law goes into effect, it will lead to panic," said Svetlana Gannushkina, an advocate for refugee rights. "People are coming from Sukhumi, Tajikistan and other hot spots, and they cannot even get a temporary permit. They are absolutely outside the law."

Moscow authorities have tightened enforcement of residence permits called propiskas, which prove that people have a right to live in the city. Residents must have propiskas to get legal jobs, housing, employment, medical care and other social services.

The Moscow administration asserts that the propiska system is the only way to control the city's growth. Moscow, with a population of roughly 10 million, is still Russia's greatest magnet for the upwardly mobile, the young and now the fearful, who are fleeing repression elsewhere.

Officials count on the system to help them combat the gangsters that Moscow attracts.

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