Refugees

“Everything There Is like a Horror Film Now”:
Young Refugees Talk about War, Fleeing Home, and Living in Russia

Filippo Valoti-Alebardi
Furfur
October 19, 2016

Armed conflicts in the Middle East and instability in parts of Africa and South Asia have led to one of the largest immigrant crises since the Second World War. According to Frontex, 1.82 million refugees arrived in Europe in 2015, and another 173,761 people arrived in Europe by sea in the first part of 2016. Russia has found itself on the sidelines in terms of most migrant flows. Only one route, which runs through Russia’s land borders with Norway and Finland, was used for the transit to Europe. According to RIA Novosti, around 6,000 people traversed this route between October and December 2015.

The Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) claims there are very few people with refugee status in Russia, less than eight hundred. Basically, people who seek refuge here can count only on temporary refugee status, which is valid for one year. But if a person manages to obtain it, no one can guarantee it will be renewed in the future. Furfur met with four young refugees and wrote down their stories of fleeing their home countries and living in hiding in Russia.

hasan

Hasan, a 20-year-old refugee from Syria

I left Aleppo three years ago. In 2012, the civil war came to our city. All the state institutions closed, except for some hospitals. I stopped going to school and almost never left my house. Everything was topsy-turvy in Aleppo then: government troops might be in one district, while the opposition was in the next. Life was hard but bearable. The financial crisis was not as bad as now, and my family had some savings. We were bombed, but not like during the Islamic State’s offensive. The electricity didn’t work, but we had a generator. The water was severely rationed, but it was enough.

Almost as soon as fighting broke out, I was forbidden to leave the house. I was not yet threatened with conscription, but my parents feared I could be recruited, killed or kidnapped, since I was the oldest son in the family. The other members of the family also tried not to leave our flat without a very good reason. We just sat at home and waited for it to all be over.

In the summer of 2013, an acquaintance of my father’s helped me get a work visa to Russia, and I left Syria. The person worked here in a sewing factory where there were many Syrians. He met me at the airport and took me to Losino-Petrovsky, where I still live. I immediately started worked in the sewing workshop. My father had been a tailor, so I already had some skills.

During the fifth month of my stay in Russia, I applied for refugee status. The [UNHCR] helped me prepare the papers for the FMS, where I had to have an interview. I was asked about my family’s financial state, whether I had served in the army, and about my political stance. A few months later, I received temporary refugee status, but it lasted for only a year.

I lived in Moscow Region and worked in the workshop. I tried to keep in touch with my family and friends. One day, a friend called me and said our house had been bombed and everyone had been killed. So only two members of my family, which had consisted of eleven people, have survived: my sister, who got married and lives in Istanbul, and I.

When my refugee status ended, I went to the FMS and asked for an extension. This time round, my case was handled by a different officer. He also asked me questions about my origins, financial state, and political stance, but then he asked why I had not gone to Iran, Turkey or Europe. I said I liked it here. I also told him that, over the past year, my mother,  brother, and all my brothers and sisters had died, except one. I was given a certificate, valid for one month, and then I was turned down. I was told the situation in Syria had normalized, that I was in no danger and could return home safely. But I had nowhere to return: my home and family were gone.

I was given three months to appeal against the refusal. I made four attempts to appeal it, but to no avail. Finally, I went to a Syrian man who said he had friends with pull. He promised to help me for 70,000 rubles [approx. 1,000 euros]. Ultimately, however, I was turned down once more, and never saw the guy again. Now I am in Russian illegally, and for the time being I have managed to avoid problems.

The police often stop me under the pretext of checking my papers, but they have a pretty good attitude to Syrians. Previously, when my papers were in order, they would haul me down to the precinct and take my fingerprints before letting me go. The situation has now become more complicated, and I often have to bribe them. It is usually not in Moscow where the police check my papers, but in Losino-Petrovsky itself. The local police are well aware of where the migrants live and work. They know our routes and when we get off work. So at least one or twice a month they detain one of us.

I rarely leave my own neighborhood. I work six days a week, twelve hours a day, and have almost no free time. But when I have the time and energy, I go play football with my friends, either in Noginsk or Moscow. I speak almost no Russian. At work, I get by with Arabic and a few words in Russian, since I work with Syrians, Tajiks, and Uzbeks. I sometimes chat on the phone with my sister in Turkey and with friends who have left Syria and gone to Turkey and Europe. I used to really miss my family and my home in Syria, but not anymore. I have lost my family and simply see no point in life. I even think it would have been better had I been with my family the day the bomb fell on my house. It would have been better to die with them than to hear about their deaths over the telephone.

yasmin

Yasmin, an 18-year-old refugee from Yemen

This is the second war my parents have fled. My father is half Vietnamese, half Yemeni. My mother is a Vietnamese Muslim. When the war between the US and Vietnam ended, they found themselves in a refugee camp in Yemen, which is where they met. My mom was seventeen then, the same age I was when I came to Russia.

Life in Yemen had always been hard for our family. Because my father speaks Arabic poorly and cannot write it, he could never count on a good job. On the streets, people would always point at us and say, “Look! There go the Chinese.” Everything got complicated after the 2011 revolution. Some government offices ceased to function, and foreign companies gradually left the country. A year later, the German firm for which my father worked as a driver closed its office, and he lost his job. It was hard to find another job. Ultimately, my older brother had to quit school to support us. He spoke the best Arabic in our family.

War broke out in Yemen in 2014, but we were affected by it only in 2015, when the heavy bombardment began. We lived in the city of Taiz, but our house was not far from a rebel camp, so the planes targeted our neighborhood. We took our things and left for Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, to stay with relatives. It was much safer there, and we livef peacefully for two weeks or so, but then the bombing recommenced.

In Sanaa, we lived near the Russian Embassy. After one of the bombing raids, we went there to ask for help. The embassy officials told us a Russian Emergencies Ministry (MChS) plane would be leaving [soon]. They explained where to go and when, but they did not promise we would be taken aboard. On the right day, we arrived at the appointed time at the airport, where we saw a team of [Russian] rescuers. They put our family on the plane. We had no visas, but we had passports. All the others who wanted to go had no papers and were left behind.

There were lots of Russian citizens on the plane with us, but there were also Yemenis, Syrians, and even a few Americans. We made a stopover in Djibouti, and there we were given the right to choose: stay behind or fly on to Russia. Since we had no family in Djibouti or other countries, we decided to fly to Russia. First, we were taken to a military airport, and then to a civil airport, where we had to wait for a consul. He gave us ten-day entry visas and ran off.

We did not know a word of Russian or English, we had no money, and we were hungry.  I don’t know what we would have done if it had not been for the Syrian who was on the plane with us. He spoke Russian and interpreted for us. Then he gave us two hundred dollars and ordered us a taxi to the Yemeni embassy. For some reason, the taxi driver took us to the Egyptian embassy, not the Yemeni embassy, and on top of that he made us pay him fifty dollars, not thirty dollars, as we had agreed. But it was a good thing the guard at the embassy spoke Arabic, since it was cold and we had no idea where we were. He called us a cab to take us to our embassy, and the next driver, an Egyptian, did not even charge us.

At the embassy, we were given a room where we lived for approximately two months. During this time we put together papers for obtaining refugee status, which we applied for at the [UNHCR] offices and the FMS. Later, the Vietnamese ambassador came to see us. He helped us get a room at the Hanoi Moscow Hotel, where we have been living ever since.

Our application for refugee status has been turned down twice. We have appealed the decision and are now awaiting the outcome. We need the status in order to be able to work and somehow organize our lives in a new place, because for over a year we have been living solely due to support from the Vietnamese. We have nowhere else to go. The war and bombing are still going on in Yemen, and there is almost nothing left of our home and neighborhood in Taiz. Everything there is like a horror film now.

didie

Didier, a 23-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Before leaving Congo, I lived in Kinshasa, our country’s capital, and was studying psychology. I left not because I was starving, but because I feared for my life. When my father died, I could not even go home to mourn and bury him. Instead, I am here, but I don’t know how much time I have left in Russia.

In 2015, I attended a rally against changes to the electoral system that would have enabled the president to serve another term. It was a major protest rally, for which a thousand and a half students and staff from my university showed up. The authorities responded by sending in the army, police, and large army trucks to kettle the protesters. The police and soldiers shot to kill. At some point, we were herded into a corner where nothing was visible, everything was covered in flames. Twelve people were killed between January 19 and January 25. Two of them were my friends. We were at university together.

The best thing that happened to many people involved in the protests was that they simply disappeared. I managed to hide from the police at the place of some acquaintances. I could not go back home or to the university, because secret service officers were surveilling the demonstrators. They were especially interested in the people who had incited university students and staff to take part in the protests. I was a ringleader, and at the time I was already a member of Congo’s second largest opposition party.  I did not want to leave the country, but my parents insisted. They were worried about me, since a lot of people were disappearing at the time.

Why did I leave for Russia? I knew people who had friends with connections and helped me get the necessary papers. This took a while, but the situation got worse and I had to leave urgently. I left Congo on a night flight after convincing the police I was somewhere else. In Russia, I had the contacts of the people who had helped me get a student visa. The first six months, I lived in the place of a friend who had gone home, and then I lived at the People’s Friendship University, where I met a lot of people and was advised to go to the Civic Assistance Committee. They helped me obtain temporary refugee status, which is issued for a year, and now I am trying to extend it.

There is a small Congolese diaspora in Moscow, but I do not communicate with them. I do not want to disseminate information about myself. I deliberately limit my dealings with other people, and I do not maintain contact with people from the Congolese opposition movement. I know that people in the Russian opposition are also detained, and I am scared my country’s authorities might send an official extradition request. In Congo, I would definitely go to prison.

Russia is a “white” Africa. People here live in greater safety than back at home, but you are also unable to assemble and protest. You fear the police, who help implement the policy of dictatorship. Nevertheless, in Russia, you can find a job easily, you can buy a flat, and get a loan. The government thinks about its people at least a little, but not in Africa. The regime has complete forgotten about people. The president works only to benefity his own family. He stuffs his pockets and takes holidays in the States and Canada, while the populace suffers. Only officials, the people who stuff his pockets, live well. They should all be in prison. God needs to descend and free my people.

People in my country continue to protest, but they are few and the police arrest them, including members of our party, which they are trying to bleed to death. Some of my comrades have left the country, while many have been arrested.

I would like to go back to Congo to fight for human rights and give people back freedom of speech and the right to vote. I want to give them the ability to speak their own mind freely. I can tell you that right now in Congo women are being raped, people’s heads are being cut off in markets, and people are being shot at.

More than ten million people have been killed in my country to date. It is the most dangerous country in the world for women: there are a huge number of rapes, and war is going on almost all the time. But if you dare talk about it, you are lost. Most of the people who can talk about it are in Europe. They upload short videos to the Internet and talk about the atrocities occurring in Congo, but if they went home they would be detained immediately.

And that is why I would like to tell Mr. Putin personally what is actually going on there. Our situation resembles the one in Syria right now, if it is not worse, but everyone talks only about Syria, and not about Congo. You white people in Russia, Europe, and the States, you are well aware of what is happening in Africa, but your governments would rather not doing anything about it. They only support the criminal regimes that rule our countries, getting money from them or investing in them. The whole world buys our diamonds: France, Belgium, and the US. Even you Russians are involved in diamond mining in Congo, which is always accompanied by war. Many people are afraid to talk about it, because they are afraid of disappearing. But I am not one of those people. I like telling the truth.

muhamed

Muhammad, 28-year-old refugee from Syria

I am from the city of Kobanî, on the border with Turkey.  I am a Kurd, and I left Syria five years ago, in 2011. I had just finished my military service when opposition rallies took place in Syria. It was all quite peaceful, and the situation in Kobanî was calm, but I sensed something serious was going to happen and decided it would be better to leave the country. I worked in the clothing industry, and a friend of mine invited me to Russia. I got help getting a yearlong business visa: that was how I ended up at the fabric in Noginsk. Initially, I came just to sit things out, but it has dragged on for five years, and there is no telling how much longer it will last. The first year I lived on a visa, and then I went to Egypt  to extend it. Subsequently, Egypt changed the rules of entry for Syrians, and I was unable to do the same thing a second time.

‏Meanwhile, Syria has shifted into a state of war. One of my little brothers was captured by Islamic State when he was traveling with other schoolchildren to take exams. He was freed several days later, but I lost contact with my relatives when fighting broke out in the Kobanî area. There were heavy battles near the city, and my family were forced to flee to Turkey. Some of my second and third cousins stayed behind to fight Islamic State. Ten of them were killed, and my brother was seriously injured.

‏All this time, I was working and living in Russia, trying to formalizing my status as a refugee, but I was not having any luck. I would come somewhere with papers, but I would be sent first one place, and then another. An appointment would be made for me, but then it would be postponed: I would be told to come back in fifteen days, and then in ten days. I was once told to come at nine in the morning. I came half an hour early, but to no avail. I was told the queue was already too long and I had better come the next day. But they could not see me the next day, since I had been in the previous day’s queue and had not shown up, allegedly. They toyed with me like this for several months. I decided to ask the [UNHCR] for help, but nothing changed. During the nine months I was going to the FMS, I was unable to file an application for refugee status. Finally, I gave up and stayed on illegally. ‏

I met a Lebanese man who promised to help solve the problems with my papers if I went to work for him at a construction site. I went, but my problems were not solved. Instead, the police caught us. They beat us up right at the construction site. There were even some reporters with policemen, but they were told to turn their cameras off. We were thrown on the ground and beaten on the feet. They beat us so badly I could not walk normally for five days or so. They wanted us to sign some papers. We did not know what was in the papers, because they were in Russian, but we were forced to sign. After that, they stopped beating us and took us to court. We were not provided with an interpreter and so we did not understand most of the proceedings. I do remember, however, that the judge tried to find out what was up with us. He could see we were in a bad way. But we were unable to tell him what had happened, and the policemen told the judge that we were just tired from working.

‏After that, I returned to the factory and started working night shifts, since there are fewer chances the police will catch you. However, I am still sometimes detained on the streets anyway. I always try and have money with me to pay the police off. Usually, I take a five-hundred-ruble note with me: that way they cannot take too much. But I rarely go outside. I work almost seven days a week, and I have no energy to do anything else after a shift of twelve to fifteen hours. I only sleep and work, and the money I send to my family: they need it more. I would like to be near them, but we Syrians now need visas to get into Turkey, and I cannot get one anywhere. Nor can I return to Syria. I have no one in Kobanî, and there is almost nothing left of the city.

Furfur thanks the Civic Assistance Committee and translators Igor Farafonov, Alexander Khodunov, and Muhammad Haled for their help with this article. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up

Read more about the treatment of Syrian and other refugees in Russia:

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“You’ll Be Gone in Three Minutes. I’m Going to Kill You”

“You’ll Be Gone in Three Minutes. I’m Going to Kill You”
Elena Srapyan, Civic Assistance Committee
refugee.ru
April 12, 2016

On Friday, April 8, between Novye Cheryomushky and Kaluzhskaya subway stations in Moscow, an elderly man fired a trauma pistol several times into the head of a man of non-Slavic appearance. The wounded man is now in the intensive care ward of City Clinic Hospital No. 1 in serious condition. The Civic Assistance Committee has taken charge of the victim’s legal defense.

сулаймон саидов
Sulaimon Saidov

On the evening of Friday, April 8, Sulaimon Saidov, a 38-year-old Tajik national, was traveling home from work to Tyoply Stan. He was accompanied by his 19-year-old nephew Mukhammajon Khakimov, who had recently arrived in Moscow from Tajikistan. Saidov has lived in Moscow for over thirteen years. Like most of his relatives, with whom he rents a small flat in Tyoply Stan, he works in construction. The job enables Saidov to feed his four children.

This time, the trip home on the subway proved disastrous. It all began quite casually. At Profsoyuznaya station, a drunken middle-aged man who could barely stand on his feet burst into the subway car. He immediately spotted Khakimov. He went right up to him, pushing him and shouting.

“Who the hell are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?” he asked Khakimov.

Khakimov modestly replied he was from Tajikistan.

The assailant called Tajiks “black monkeys,” swore, and demanded that uncle and nephew immediately leave the car because it was “only for [ethnic] Russians.” Khakimov went over to his uncle, seeking protection. Saidov stood up, pushed his frightened nephew behind him, and tried to calm him.

“The man is just drunk. Don’t look at him. Don’t pay any attention,” he said.

Staring point blank at Saidov, the assailant said, “You’ll be gone in three minutes. I’m going to kill you.”

As Saidov relates it, he felt no danger: the threat from the elderly, frail-looking man seemed too absurd. Even when he spotted a pistol in the assailant’s hands, he did not believe it. He thought it was a toy. However, the pistol was real, a trauma pistol, and the assailant began firing.

He managed to squeeze off several shots at both Tajiks. He missed Khakimov, but he hit Saidov three times in the head and once in the stomach. At short range, the shots could have been deadly. One of the bullets entered Saidov’s eye and damaged the sclera, while another left a huge wound in his skull.

Saidov realized he had to fight for his life. He felt no pain. In a state of shock, he grabbed for the assailant’s pistol and managed to wrest it from his hands. At that moment, the doors of the subway car opened, and assailant and victim found themselves on the platform of Kaluzhskaya subway station. According to police, there was no CCTV camera in the car, but on the station’s cameras what happened looks like a fight. Rushing to the scene, police detained the man holding the pistol: Saidov. Police grabbed him, wrested the weapon from him, and put his hands behind his back. Only when bystanders shouted that he was the victim was Saidov released.

The assailant managed to escape the scene, but was detained quite soon thereafter. When witnesses identified the attacker on video surveillance recordings at the station, it turned out the man’s face was familiar to police. After the pistol was fingerprinted, there could be no doubt: the assailant was 58-year-old local resident Sergei Tsaryov, who had been detained at the same subway station a week earlier.

Tsaryov was brought in literally minutes later. However, police were unable to talk with him for a long time. The man was so drunk he could not answer clearly. At the same time, relatives of the victim were giving testimony in another office. Saidov was almost immediately taken away by ambulance. His injuries were so severe that doctors feared for his life.

Saidov’s cousin Dilshod Saidov, who speaks Russian well, soon arrived at the scene. At the time, Police Captain Ilyinsky was questioning relatives and witnesses, and drawing up an incident report. Dilshod Saidov assisted the captain by translating for Khakimov. But when Ilyinsky read the interview record aloud, Saidov was struck by the differences between it and Khakimov’s testimony. Saidov began verifying the interview record phrase by phrase. According to the text, it was Khakimov who had got a rise out of the passenger with whom Sulaimon Saidov had later fought.

“As if Mukhammajon had provoked the assailant by the mere fact of his existence,” said an indignant Dilshod Saidov. “I had to fight for every word in his testimony: that alone took two hours. They also tried to give me a hard time. They said, ‘Who the hell are you? Let’s check you out.’ Only I wasn’t scared. I’m a regular guy: all my papers are in order. Yeah, the night at the police station was just awful.”

But most importantly, the ambulance doctors managed to get Sulaimon Saidov to City Hospital No. 1 quickly, where he immediately underwent surgery. Thanks to the efficiency and professionalism of his doctors, Saidov survived.

Saidov’s family are alsop grateful to a young female witness who went with them to the police station and stayed there to the end. Unfortunately, they were unable to exchange telephone numbers. The police were vigilant and made sure that communication between them was impossible.

Saidov’s relatives stood watch outside the intensive care ward all through the evening of April 8 and the early hours of April 9.

“I was at work when it happened,” says Dilafruz Sharapova, a close friend of the victim’s. “I called Sulaimon, but he didn’t answer. That usually doesn’t happen, and I got scared right away. Then his nephew picked up the phone. First he said  they were just on the subway. He didn’t want to scare me. When I got home, his cousin called and told me everything. I remember I immediately said to him, ‘Come and get me, and let’s go to the hospital.’ I couldn’t just sit there, you know? We arrived at the hospital, and I waited so long for the doctors to say at least something that it was frightening. I was able to see him only a day later. The operation was over, and the danger had passed. Things will probably be rough for us now, because he won’t be able to work. But I’m not thinking about that for the time being. I am only worried for him. I can’t think about anything else.”

The doctors are now optimistic in their prognoses. Although Saidov suffered a severe bruise to the crown of his head, the brain was not affected. Saidov remembers everything perfectly, and has no problems speaking. The biggest worry is his eye, but the doctors hope to be able to save it despite the damage to the sclera. Perhaps another operation, a more expensive one, will be necessary. The Civic Assistance Committee plans on announcing a fundraiser for Saidov when details have become clear and his relatives have received the necessary medical documents.

The Civic Assistance Committee is defending the interests of the victim, Sulaimon Saidov, in the case.

“For the incident to be qualified correctly it is vital that our lawyer begin working as quickly as possible,” said Marina Leksina, head of the project for the victims of hate crimes. “Because we already have cause to assume that they will try to acquit the assailant by presenting Sulaimon as an active party to the conflict. From what Sulaimon has told us, the attack was motivated only by xenophobia. It was direct aggression, which the assailant accompanied with corresponding language.”

Representing the victim will be Filipp Shishov, an attorney for Memorial Human Rights Center’s Migration and Law Network. Shishov previously represented Maratbek Eshankulov, the young man who unable to return home for four years because of the “dissimilar” photograph in his passport.

Photo courtesy of the Civic Assistance Committee. Translated by the Russian Reader

Refugees from Yemen in Dead End

Emergencies Ministry Flights Brought Yemeni Refugees to Russian Dead End 
Elena Srapyan (Civic Assistance Committee)
refugee.ru
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.

Молодой Ясмин совсем недавно исполнилось, но она уже хорошо знакома со взрослыми проблемами беженцев в России.
Yasmin Wadiqi. Photo courtesy of Civic Assistance Committee

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

*Article 31 (United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees)

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.

School Daze

Artyom Tyutrin

Svetlana Gannushkina
August 29, 2015
Facebook

On September 1 [the first day of the school year in Russia], this boy, Artyom Tyutrin, will not go to school but to court. His parents immigrated from Uzbekistan because they could not cope with the need to speak Uzbek in all institutions. They passed the exams in history, law, and Russian, their native tongue [now required of all migrants to Russia], received work permits, found jobs and a place to live, which they registered as their residence for three months. The headmaster of the school [where they live] told Svetlana, Artyom’s mom, that they had to be registered for a year [for Artyom to be enrolled], that in Russia, the Constitution only applied to Russian citizens. Svetlana was stunned: she had taken the exams and knew that Article 62 of the Constitution states, Foreign citizens and stateless persons shall enjoy rights and bear obligations in the Russian Federation on a par with citizens of the Russian Federation[.]”  Maybe it’s time to make everyone working in the education system sit for the same exams? And maybe not only them? During a court hearing, a judge once said to me, “I’m tired of you and your constitution!” It seems this was not just his own personal attitude to our basic law.

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Svetlana Gannushkina is chair of the Civic Assistance Committee in Moscow. Photos courtesy of her Facebook page

See my recent posts on this topic:

Ripe for Exploitation: How Syrian Refugee Children Are Treated in Russia

Ripe for Exploitation
Oleg Pshenichny
August 24, 2015
Grani.ru

This morning, instead of giving lessons, the teachers at a school for Syrian refugee children loaded the school’s belongings into a car. Classes had suddenly been cancelled, and the school closed. The proprietor of the room in a private house where classes had been held showed the children and teachers the door.

This happened after local Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) officers had shown up on Saturday at the house on Rogozhskaya Street where the school was located to carry out a spot check, which had mushroomed into a full-blown search. The officers inspected not only the rooms and the grounds of the house but also the personal belongings and furniture of both the house’s owner and the school.

The occasion for the spot check had been information about a Syrian terrorist who had, allegedly, been registered under false pretenses at the house. As the school’s organizer, Syrian journalist and political refugee Muiz Abu Aljail, told Grani.ru, the reason for the search was contrived. The local authorities had simply wanted to get rid of the school.

Classes had begun in May of this year under the auspices of the Civic Assistance Committee’s Adaptation and Education Center for Refugee Children, with assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Around thirty Syrian children who had settled in Noginsk in recent years were pupils at the school.

Olga Nikolayenko, director of the Adaptation and Education Center, told Grani.ru that Muiz Abu Aljail had actively helped his compatriots in the Moscow Region by providing legal and other assistance. When he found out that many Syrian children in Noginsk had nothing to do and were simply roaming the streets, Muiz organized a informal study group, initially in Arabic, after which the Civic Assistance Committee got involved and recruited professional teachers.

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Muiz Abu Aljail and pupils from the Noginsk School for Refugee Children. Photo from Muiz Abu Aljail’s Facebook page

“We organized a Russian language summer intensive course to prepare the children to enroll in regular schools in Noginsk in September,” said Nikolayenko, “As you know, there is now a lawsuit underway against the Ministry of Education in order to force Russian schools to enroll migrant and refugee children regardless of whether they have residence permits. [The Supreme Court will hear the case on August 27 — Grani.ru.] We are counting on winning and wanted to get the children’s Russian up to speed. But now the owner of the house has been thoroughly intimidated. They summoned her for questioning and told her they were looking for an agent of Al Qaeda. Classes have been disrupted.”

According to Nikolayenko, the Noginsk authorities had immediately reacted with hostility to the idea of setting up the school. When people from the Adaptation and Education Center had come to Noginsk in May to secure the assistance of the local education department, a meeting was held at which Alla Artyomova, head of the local FMS office, had categorically stated that no classrooms would be provided for the school, because on paper there were no Syrian children in Noginsk and no one cared about what happened to them.

At the same time, in neighboring Losino-Petrovsky, a similar school for migrant children has received a lot of assistance from the local authorities, who found classroom space and promised to help the children enroll in school. In Noginsk, however, the school was left to its own devices and had to hold classes in a private home.

“The kids really liked it,” says Elena Drozdova, a teacher at the school, “and we managed to get a lot done. After all, teaching a person to read and write Russian from scratch in three months is a big deal. But now we’ve loaded our things in the car, and we don’t know what will happen to the school, what will happen to the children, and after this incident, whether the parents will let their children go to school at all.”

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Pupils from the Noginsk School for Refugee Children. Photo from Muiz Abu Aljail’s Facebook page. The placard reads, “We are not animals. Please give us the right to a childhood.”

Muiz Abu Aljail believes the problems are much more serious than red tape. Officials are not interested in helping the refugees to adapt since an unsettled community is a good source of bribes.

“There is a police and FMS mafia who have created a whole system of slave labor and extortion. I once published an investigation entitled ‘Slavery in Russia: A Special Dossier on Syrian Refugees.’ At every stage of the decision-making, the corrupt system gets tens of thousands of rubles from each person. For example, getting registrations costs twenty thousand rubles [approx. 250 euros at current exchange rates], another twenty thousand rubles for your wife, and another twenty thousand rubles for your children. It used to cost from sixty to seventy thousand rubles to get registration, but after the FMS ordered that asylum be granted automatically, the rate went down to twenty thousand rubles. But the price for being granted asylum has risen. In Moscow, a special business has been organized to this end. Getting into the queue costs fifteen thousand rubles. Getting a certificate stating your case is under review costs from three to fifteen thousand rubles. It costs forty thousand rubles to get temporary asylum. Without it, you will either not get a job or be forced to work illegally, which has led to the emergence of entire slave-labor enterprises.”

In September, Muiz Abu Aljail will himself be forced to leave Russia, because he did not pay bribes and was not granted asylum in Russia. And the Adaptation and Education Center for Refugee Children was evicted from its premises in Moscow in July.

Translated by The Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up. See my recent post on this same topic, “Why Migrant Children Are Expelled from Russian Schools.”

Why Migrant Children Are Expelled from Russian Schools

“Moscow for Muscovites”: Why Migrant Children Are Expelled from Moscow Schools
Darina Shevchenko
June 18, 2015
Yod

Russia had long made it possible for all children living in the country to get an education. The right of every child to an education was untouchable. Beginning this year, circumstances have changed. The Federal Migration Service (FMS) has obliged schools to expel unregistered children under the threat of stiff fines. Yod has tried to find out why Moscow schools are prepared to teach only children who hold Moscow residence permits.

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Alla, a Ukrainian national, arrived in Moscow last year from the city of Chernivtsi, located in Western Ukraine. Alla says that food prices have greatly increased in her hometown, and it has become hard to find work. In Moscow, she quickly found a manager’s job at a small company, rented a flat, and in spring of this year decided to move her son Alexander to Moscow. She went to School No. 1524 and asked what she needed to do to enroll him in the eighth grade.

Alla was told documents for enrolling in school were now submitted through the District Information Support Services (DISS). At DISS, she was informed that her child could be enrolled in school only if he had a yearlong temporary residence permit for Moscow. Alla and Alexander now have a three-month temporary residence permit. Their landlady has refused to register them for a longer period. At DISS, Alla was told that without this document her son had no right to study in a Russian school.

“Alla’s story is now typical. A family from Ukraine recently turned to us for help. For a whole year, a school had refused to enroll their son in the first grade. First, they needed a resident permit, and then they were denied enrollment due to the fact the child had turned eight, and eight-year-olds are too old to study in the first grade. This child’s parents were forced to return to Ukraine,” says Stasya Denisova from the Civic Assistance Committee.

According to the human rights defender, they now are dealing with a very large number of appeals from migrant and refugee families concerning expulsions and non-admission to schools. The most common reason is that their resident permits have run out. School directors cite Ministry of Education Decree No. 32, dated January 22, 2014. The decree divides children into two categories. Priority for admission to school is given to those who have permanent registration, while those who have temporary registration are admitted in second place.

“There is nothing in the decree about children without registration. Apparently, officials believe this means that such children do not have to be enrolled in school at all,” says Denisova.

Another human rights activist, Bakhrom Ismailov, says this year he has begun receiving many complaints from migrants whose children have been kicked out of school because they lacked documents.

“For a long time, Russia made it possible for all children who were living in the country to get an education. And the right to an education for all children was untouchable. The situation has changed this year. The FMS has obliged schools to expel children without resident permits,” says Ismailov.

“Just this week, I got several phone calls from Central Asian migrants who told me their children were going to be expelled from school because they had no medical insurance. Last year, a law requiring migrants to buy health insurance came into force. Without it, they cannot be employed. But we are talking about adult migrants. I don’t understand why high schools are making this demand on their pupils,” says Gavkhar Jurayeva, head of the Migration and Law Center.

Several teachers in different Moscow schools who wished to remain anonymous confirmed to Yod that at the beginning of the academic year, school principals were told at staff meetings that Moscow was now prepared to teach only children holding Moscow residence permits.

It is not only Moscow schools that now require residence permits.

“Our principal’s granddaughter, who is registered in Moscow, goes to school in the Moscow Region. At the school she attends, they demanded a Moscow Region residence permit from her. They said they were different budgets. Moscow was ready to educate only its own children at its own expense, and the region also educated only its own children at its own expense,” recounts a Moscow schoolteacher.

However, Isaak Kalina, head of the Moscow Education Department, does not agree with this take on the situation and says that stories of migrant children being expelled are myths.

“These stories are examples of journalistic myths. Any child who is legally in Moscow can study in Moscow’s schools,” says Kalina.

In February of this year, Uzbek national Nurbek, who has lived in Russia for ten years, was told by Vera Pankova, principal of School No. 34 in Tver, that his two teenaged sons, who had been pupils at the school since the first grade, would either have to be registered within five days or she would expel them.

“Not once in all these years had anyone at the school asked about my sons’ registration. The boys were good pupils, and they had no problems with their teachers. I also respect Russian law. I have always done all the paperwork for my family promptly,” recounts Nurbek.

The three-year residence permits of Nurbek’s sons had expired this past fall. Nurbek has a Russian residence permit, owns his own home in Tver, and is employed full time. Nurbek also wanted to apply for permanent residence permits for his sons and wife. But he was turned down on the grounds that his wife was unemployed, and the children were inscribed in her passport.

“I explained that my wife stays at home with our youngest son and our daughter. How can she work? And I own my own home and have a job. All the same, the boys were not allowed to get permanent residence,” says Nurbek, outraged.

The FMS also refused to register Nurbek’s sons, explaining that the boys had to exit and re-enter Russia.

“I earn forty to fifty thousand rubles a month [approx. 650 to 800 euros] for the whole family. I cannot afford to buy the children a two-way ticket. I have to set aside money and save up for this,” explains Nurbek.

In February, Nurbek was summoned by the principal, who demanded that he immediately present his sons’ registration. The school gave him five days to do the paperwork.

“The children were expelled the same day. They were required to turn in their textbooks. The school did not even suggest temporarily transferring them to home study. I asked that they be allowed to finish out the school year and promised to secure them their resident permits by this deadline. The principal replied that if she didn’t immediately kick out my children, the FMS would fine the school 400,000 rubles [approx. 6,500 euros]. The kids were very upset. The oldest loves school. He intends to study engineering at university, and then move to Germany. The teachers say he has great aptitude for foreign languages. After finishing school, my younger soon planned to study be a mechanic at vocational college. I have worked so much so that my children would not have to be uneducated street sweepers, and I decided to fight for them,” recounts Nurbek.

He filed a lawsuit against the school and won the case. According to the Civic Assistance Committee’s Stasya Denisova, the court ruled that the expulsion of Nurbek’s children had been illegal, because it violated the federal law “On Education,” the Russian Federal Constitution, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Russia has ratified.

“The demands of the local FMS office to expel children due to a lack of registration also had no legal grounds. The court ruled it was not the school’s business to identify foreign nationals among its pupils and expel them due to a lack of registration,” says Denisova.

According to Nurbek, Principal Pankova came up to him after the trial and said she would challenge the court’s ruling.

“She was very indignant that, I, a migrant, had dared file suit against a Russian school. I tried to convince her I had not wanted to humiliate or insult anyone. I just needed my children to get an education. Then she said, ‘If you have money for lawsuits, you can afford to pay for your children’s education,’” recounts Nurbek.

Pankova told Yod she had no plans to prevent Nurbek’s children from attending school.

“I only ask that they register as soon as possible. No, the FMS is not pressuring me. It just has to be done,” said Pankova.

Nurbek claims that his children have already received a temporary residence permit. They have been registered, a

The Tver Region FMS office accommodated Nurbek only after Civic Assistance Committee lawyers intervened.

“Secondary schools now require registration not only from Central Asian migrant children but also from Russian citizens who have moved to a new town and from refugees. For example, in the Moscow Region town of Noginsk we opened a school for the Syrian refugee children, who are not admitted to Russian schools despite the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We were unable to find common ground with the FMS office in Noginsk. When we arrived to meet them, their staff illegally checked the documents of the human rights defenders,” recalls Olga Nikolayenko, director of the Adaptation and Education Center for Refugee Children.

The FMS was unable to reply to Yod’s request for a comment before this article went to press.

Nikolayenko says she does not understand what the FMS hopes to achieve by forcing schools to expel migrant children for bureaucratic reasons.

“Some migrants will leave Russia due to the fact their children won’t be able to go to school here. But most will remain. Their children will also continue to live here, because things are even worse at home. I don’t think they will have a good attitude towards a country that has deprived them of the opportunity to get an education. World know-how shows that first-generation immigrants are never integrated. But it is easy to integrate the second generation if the host country makes a minimal effort,” says Nikolayenko. “For some reason, our government is trying to make sure that neither the second nor the third generation is integrated. It generates a number of people in this country who are excluded from social processes, and so society cannot tap their potential. These people could get a high school diploma or a higher education and pay taxes. I don’t see any logic in the actions of the schools and the local FMS offices. First and foremost, we are wantonly sabotaging ourselves.”

Ismailov says that observance of immigration law has now been put above the right of children to get an education.

“In the past two years, the requirements for migrants have become tighter and tighter. Pressure has been put on them via minors,” says Ismailov. “Why pressure children? Let the adults be fined and penalized. Children should not be treated so cruelly.”

Nurbek’s friend Abdul-Aziz, from the town of Elektrostal in Moscow Region, is planning to send his children back home to Tajikistan this week. Due to the lack of registration, none of his school-age sons and daughters is admitted to Russian schools.

“They can go to school at home. They will grow up and come to Moscow to work. There is no work in Tajikistan anyway. But if they don’t know Russian and your customs, that will be your own fault,” says Abdul-Aziz.

This is the second in a series of posts dealing with Central Asia, Central Asians, and immigration. The first post in the series, a translation of Sergei Abashin’s essay “Movements and Migrants,” can be read here. Photo, above, courtesy of Yod. Translated by The Russian Reader.