Emergencies Ministry Flights Brought Yemeni Refugees to Russian Dead End
Elena Srapyan (Civic Assistance Committee)
January 29, 2016
Refugees from Yemen, who came to Russia in April 2014 aboard Emergencies Ministry (MChS) flights, have found themselves in a desperate situation. As they have attempted to gain asylum in Russia, they have run not only into bureaucratic hurdles but also deliberate resistance from migration service officers. Thus, instead of being received during office hours on January 11 at the Moscow office of the Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) on Kirpichnaya Street, the Waqidi family was taken to the immigration control department and threatened with expulsion for overstaying.
The family became refugees in April of last year, when armed conflict erupted in Yemen, and many countries began evacuating the civilian population from the country. Russia was also involved in this operation. MChS planes delivered several hundred people to Moscow. Among them were nationals of other countries as well as Yemeni nationals who planned to seek asylum.
It was then that an MChS plane took on board Amina Hassan Hadi Mohamed Waqidi, her husband Mohamed Abdo Naji, their nine-year-son Abdul Karim Mohamed Abdo, and seventeen-year-old daughter Yasmin Mohamed Abdo. They arrived in Moscow on April 23, 2014.
Nobody gave the Yemenis any advice on how to obtain asylum status. Instead, the Waqidis found out everything on their own and applied for asylum at the appropriate time. On August 3, however, the FMS refused to grant refugee status in Russia to any members of the Waqidi family.
In November, Amina and Yasmin first applied for temporary refugee status. But instead of accepting their applications, FMS officers transported the women to the Izmailovo District Court. The court, in turn, returned the matter to the local FMS office, underscoring the fact the family had arrived on an MChS plane from Yemen and had already, at the time of the hearing, submitted an application for temporary asylum to the head of the FMS Moscow office.
Amina and Yasmin finally submitted their documents on November 10. Yasmin’s passport was taken and she was issued a certificate stating her application for temporary asylum was under review. Her mother, who was not issued the same certificate, was asked to submit translations of several documents. Amina also had no luck during the interview, either. Here it would be appropriate to mention that Amina is originally from Vietnam. While Yasmin easily got through the interview at the FMS office with assistance from an Arabic translator, her mother, who speaks only her native Vietnamese fluently, was not provided with a Vietnamese translator. The interview was nevertheless conducted in December, but in Arabic, which Amina speaks quite poorly.
By the new year, the translated documents, certified by the UNHCR, were ready. On the first working day of January, Yasmin and Amina went once again to the FMS Moscow office on Kirpichnaya to secure the certificate. Without certificates that their documents were under review, the Yemenis would be vulnerable to police, who periodically detain migrants for violating their terms of stay, whereas FMS-issued certificates would attest to the legality of the Waqidi family’s presence in Russia.
But strange things began to happen on Kirpichnaya Street. Instead of issuing the certificate to Amina, FMS officers summoned an immigration control officer. He took the certificate and her mother’s passport from Yasmin, went into Office No. 104, where the refugees were planning to submit documents, and reemerged with two passports. He took them upstairs to Yuri Yevdokimov, head of the department for refugees and displaced persons. The Yemenis were then taken to the FMS immigration control department at Sadovnicheskaya Street, 63.
Laila Rogozina, head of the Civic Assistance Committee’s community liaison office, contacted the immigration control department on Sadovnicheskaya and suggested the officers there familiarize themselves with the text of the United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
“I picked up the telephone and told the man on the other end of the line to read Article 31.* He read it and said, ‘Well, everything is clear. I will give them back their passports and let them go wherever they like,'” recounted Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the Civic Assistance Committee.
Indeed, there had been no grounds for sending Yasmin and Amina Waqidi to the immigration control department. Their applications were in the midst of processing, and they had applied for asylum in due time, so it had been unlawful to confiscate Yasmin’s certificate and take her and her mother’s passports. The passports were returned to the women and they were released.
“What was once a trend has become a regular practice,” concluded Svetlana Gannushkina. “When people come to the FMS Moscow office to file asylum applications, Mr. Yevdokimov immediately calls immigration control to come and get them. They are written up for having violated Russian federal migration rules, and the asylum seekers are taken to court. Whereas earlier this happened only to those people who had been in Russian illegally for long periods and, according to the migration service, intended to be legalized by submitting an asylum application, now it applies to everyone, both new arrivals and even those whose applications are already in process. This practice has led us to accompany every refugee [to the FMS]. Otherwise, we run the risk of finding our applicants later at the Special Detention Facility for Foreign Nationals (SUVSIG), without their even having had the chance to apply for asylum.”
Gannushkina discussed the Waqidi family’s case with both Svetlana Pleshakova, deputy head of the Moscow migration service, and Valentina Kazakova, head of the citizenship department at the Russian FMS. Both officials agreed that the refugees had been treated improperly. Amina and Yasmin then went to see Marina Kapustina, deputy head of the department for refugees and displaced persons. She issued application processing certificates to both women.
“Maybe Mr. Yevdokimov should also read the 1951 Convention and the Russian federal law ‘On Refugees’?” Gannushkina commented. “It is important to note here that this is a matter of people who not only arrived from a dangerous region but were brought here by Russian MChS planes. You get the impression that our foreign and domestic policy are totally inconsistent. People arrive from a war zone, where their lives were definitely in danger, and it is obvious they are going to apply for asylum. However, the Moscow migration service apparently has no access to geographical information or reports from other agencies about how the people came to Russia, and tries to avoid doing any work to this end.”
Translated by the Russian Reader
Refugees Unlawfully in the Country of Refuge
1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
2. The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country. The Contracting States shall allow such refugees a reasonable period and all the necessary facilities to obtain admission into another country.