Olga Tseitlina: “Society Doesn’t Understand Why It Should Protect Syrian Refugees”

What Happens to Syrian Refugees in Saint Petersburg
Veronika Prokhorova
September 9, 2015
paperpaper.ru

A flood of refugees from Syria has swept over Europe. The refugees have been passing through Hungary on their way to Austria and Germany. The German government is willing to take in 35,000 refugees. More than four million people have gone to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. According to Amnesty International, Russia, as, for example, Japan and South Korea, has not officially provided places for refugees, although legally speaking, Syrians still have ways of remaining in the country.

Paper spoke with Olga Tseitlina, a lawyer who works with the Memorial Human Rights Center, about how things really stand in Russia with Syrian refugees.

The human rights lawyer told us how the refugees end up in Petersburg, why, because of legal conflicts, the refugees can neither stay nor be deported to zones of military conflict, and how Syrians who have lived in Russia for long periods become illegal immigrants.

A525E3E4-CA83-4A0B-87A2-2891FE71AD0D_w640_sOlga Tseitlina, human rights lawyer from the organization Migration and Law. Photo by Tatyana Voltskaya. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Why Syrians Go to Russia
Syrian refugees seek safe countries in order to save their own lives. Sometimes, smugglers deceive them, saying they are taking them to Egypt, bringing them instead to Russia. This is common. Some refugees themselves choose Russia because they have family or friends here (there is a diaspora of Syrian refugees in Petersburg), but this is the exception rather than the rule. They do not receive real help from the authorities, since the region lacks a center for receiving and housing displaced people.

It is important to know that only people who are seeking asylum are not held responsible for illegally crossing borders. Those with whom we work had not asked for asylum but were merely trying to get out of our country.

After the court has made its ruling, these people are sent to the Deportation Center in Krasnoe Selo [a far southern suburb of Petersburg], whence by law they should be forcibly removed to Syria, but that is inadmissible, because there is a war going on in their home country. If they are returned, these people might be killed, meaning their right to life would be violated. We cannot forcibly return people to military conflict zones: this is contrary to international law.

Our government agencies do not understand that people are in Russia illegally for long periods not because they are criminals and villains. Sometimes, because of language problems and lack of knowledge, they do not draft their claims properly. They do not know where to turn or how asylum is granted, since there is virtually no information either at the border or at police stations.

Often they turn to the police, who do not send them to the immigration authorities, but immediately cite them for an administrative violation or pass the citation on to the Federal Migration Service. There, the procedure for bringing them to justice and subsequently deporting them is immediately set into motion.

What Syrians Can Expect in Petersburg
Officially, Syrians are entitled to temporary asylum for one year, but that does not always work out, especially in the big cities like Moscow and Petersburg. In Ivanovo, for example, it proved much easier to receive temporary asylum. There it was possible for people who in Petersburg had been turned down even when they asked to start the procedure of granting asylum. In contrast to Ukrainians, no zero quotas for granting asylum to Syrians exist. [Not only have Ukrainians not been granted temporary asylum, but immigration authorities have also refused to take their applications, citing the absence of a quota for Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Region — Paper.]

Syrian refugees often come to big cities. Over a dozen people have turned to us for help in the last three months. In Petersburg, however, there are many more such people. It is just that people turn to our organization only when they are already going through the deportation procedure or cannot get asylum.

Asylum claims are rejected for many reasons. In a number of cases, the authorities refuse to accept claims because people have been in the Russian Federation illegally for some time. If people do not have a valid visa, residence registration, and a job, they are denied asylum and told they are violating Russian law. But here a contradiction again arises. There are refugees who because of the war have simply been unable to return to Syria and renew their student visas, for example. They were forced to break the law. The authorities also attempt to expel them, and the situation known as refugee sur place arises. Others are rejected because they reported false information or they failed to apply on time, although they might simply not have known when and where to apply.

Russian Laws and the European Court of Human Rights
We have managed to bring several attempts to deport Syrian refugees from Russia before the European Court of Human Rights. Only then did the Leningrad Regional Court overturn the decision to deport several people from Aleppo to a military conflict zone. Then, the ECHR asked a crucial question: whether the military situation in Syria had been taken into account when the decision was made. Typically, this issue is not discussed at all by courts either in the case of Syrian refugees or displaced people from Ukraine. It is necessary, however, to take into account the social and political situation in the country of origin and explore the issue of whether it will be safe for asylum applicants to return.

People awaiting deportation are placed in special facilities in Krasnoe Selo. The local conditions of detention were also examined by the ECHR as part of the case of Kim v. Russia. In June 2014, both the ECHR and the Government of the Russian Federation deemed the conditions of detention inhuman and in violation of Article 3 of the Europe Convention on Human Rights. However, they have virtually remained unchanged since then. Moreover, there are no temporary accommodation centers for refugees who have qualified for temporary asylum either in Petersburg, Leningrad Region or Moscow.

How Society Treats Refugees
Now Russians are negatively disposed even towards their “native” Ukrainian refugees, although earlier there was support for them. They say, What do we need these refugees for? We have enough problems of our own. They take our jobs and put an additional burden on infrastructure.

The attitude to Syrian refugees is even worse. These are people from a completely different culture and religion. They might look differently, and they speak a different language. People tend to associate Syrians with ISIL and suspect them of being terrorists. If people are afraid of the refugees from Ukraine, finding volunteers to work with Syrian refugees seems completely unreal in Petersburg and Russia generally. Some people manage to find shelter through churches, but this happens quite rarely. Society does not understand why it should provide protection to Syrian refugees and refugees in general.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Deportation of Crimean Tatars Remembered in Petersburg

Deportation of Crimean Tatars Remembered in Petersburg
David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
May 20, 2015

On May 19, Petersburg democracy activists commemorated the Soviet Stalinist government’s mass deportation of Crimean Tartars on May 18, 1944. Activists held a series of solo pickets on Nevsky Prospect before gathering for an evening event at Open Space, a co-working venue run by the organization St. Petersburg Election Observers.

Several activists, including Vsevolod Nechayev, leader of the Democratic Petersburg coalition, Andrey Zyrkunov of the liberal-democratic party Yabloko, and Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev, a famous local activist, took to the city’s main street with placards calling on fellow citizens to remember the anniversary of the deportation and blaming the current Russian authorities for preventing commemorations in Crimea itself.

IMG_8818Local activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev picketing on Nevsky Prospect, May 19, 2015. His placard reads, “Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars is a crime with no statute of limitations! A people’s memory cannot be murdered! Even according to the NKVD’s statistics, 44,887 deportees from Crimea died in 1944–1945.”

Apparently inured to pickets and demonstrations of various kinds, passersby mostly exhibited indifference. A couple of young men attempted to harass the protesters, but most passersby merely glanced at the picketers before continuing on their way.

IMG_8836Picketer handing out leaflets on Nevsky Prospect, May 19, 2015

In the evening, activists gathered at Open Space to continue their commemorations. Alexandra Krylenkova, leader of St. Petersburg Election Observers, is field coordinator of the Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights.

Activists viewed a documentary film about the deportation and chatted with Asan Mumdzhi, a member of the Crimean Tatar community in Petersburg.

They also talked via Skype with Zair Smedlya, head of the Qurultay of the Crimean Tatar People. Smedlya described the current situation in the Crimea. Police arrest protesters en masse even at authorized protests and auto rallies, but generally the authorities refuse to grant permission to hold such events.

“The same old story,” muttered someone in the audience.

The current Crimean authorities have tried to turn the commemoration of the 1944 deportation into a celebration of the fact that President Putin signed a decree “rehabilitating” the Crimean Tatars on April 21 of this year.

Mumdzhi compared this to Jews being “rehabilitated” by Germans.

IMG_8905Asan Mumdzhi

Smedlya also claimed that people had been arrested for carrying Ukrainian flags, which is not illegal.

“Crimean policemen didn’t know the Ukrainian laws. Now they do not know the Russian laws,” Smedlya quipped.

The gathering ended with a screening of the Crimean Tatar-language film Haytarma, which tells the story of the highly decorated Soviet fighter pilot Amet-khan Sultan, who accidentally witnessed the deportation and managed to keep his family in Crimea.

 All photographs by and courtesy of David Frenkel

Migrant Labor and the 2018 World Cup in Russia

iuf.ru
Migrant Labor in Russia: From Golyanovo to the 2018 World Cup

On July 11, 2013, the Russian Federal Law “On the Preparation and Staging of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in the Russian Federation and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts” came into force without any uproar, something inadmissible in such delicate matters. (Hereafter referred to as FZ-108 for brevity’s sake, the full text of the law in the original Russian can be found here.)

While the name of the law might not sound too promising, its content opens up truly outstanding prospects for any Russian employer even tangentially connected with the 2018 World Cup. FZ-108 establishes special conditions for the employment of “foreign nationals and stateless persons” (i.e., migrant laborers) involved in the preparations and staging of the World Cup and Confederations Cup.

Article 9 Chapter 4 generously eliminates the need to obtain permits for the employment of migrant labor and notify the relevant authorities of the conclusion or termination of contracts with foreign workers, or of their arrival or departure. Nor are migrant workers themselves required to obtain work permits. Quotas for the issuance of visas and work permits are waived for those employers involved with the 2018 World Cup. Article 10 is even more interesting: it abolishes all regulation and control over the recruitment of foreign nationals and stateless persons as volunteers—that is, it practically and plainly permits employing migrants without remuneration. Article 11 exceeds all limits of generosity. It allows employers to set long working hours right in the contracts of all workers “employed in the preparation and staging of the events” (with no explanation of what that phrase means) and waives the requirements for the compensation of night work, the compensation of work on weekends and holidays, and the duration and compensation of overtime (as stipulated by Articles 154, 113, 153, and 152, respectively, of the Russian Federal Labor Code). The icing on the cake is Article 56 Chapter 14, which exempts all payments made to migrants under labor, civil, and volunteer contracts from obligatory social security and insurance deductions.

This simplified hiring procedure is a clear incentive for employers to employ foreign workers on the widest possible scale.

Here we should stop and ask ourselves to whom FZ-108 applies. The answer: any entity that is a “FIFA business partner.” By law, this means any legal or natural person in a contractual relationship with FIFA or its subsidiaries and involved in “events.” This might be a commercial partnership agreement or an agreement for provision of services, but in any case the provisions of the law apply to the subsidiaries and subcontractors of all these “business partners.”

Thus, the list of organizations with special rights vis-à-vis workers employed in preparing the “events” is very broad. We can safely include in this list the general contractors and subcontractors involved in building the stadiums, suppliers, FIFA sponsors (all thirty-four of them!), FIFA licensees (i.e., companies that have the right to use the World Cup logo on their products), firms providing security at the World Cup, and so on. Of course, all these companies have subsidiaries and contractors—personnel and temp agencies, construction and security companies, manufacturing facilities, cleaning and catering companies, firms involved in maintaining equipment and buildings, supplying brand-name goods, producing and placing ads, and so on and so forth. By the way, the recruiting agency Kelly Services is among the official suppliers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In light of the new law, we can easily imagine the consequences if this or any similar firm signs a contract with FIFA.

It is reasonable to assume the Russian authorities understand they will be unable to get ready for the World Cup employing only Russian citizens and are thus counting on migrant workers. Employers in construction, residential building maintenance, cleaning, retail, and other sectors where the skill requirements are low and cheap labor is the source of profits have long ago discovered this magic wand.

But we cannot help noticing that all these measures have been proposed and ratified by the same government that is literally right now organizing actual raids on migrants and imprisoning them in special camps in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Volgograd, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, and Kaliningrad. Does this mean that the right hand of the Russian state doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Not in the least.

All the above-named cities are hosting the 2018 World Cup.

In accordance with FZ-108, any migrant worker needs to do just one thing to obtain legal status: become involved with the preparation and staging of the World Cup or Confederations Cup, that is, enter into an employment, civil or volunteer agreement with one of the organizers of the events, or with their contractors or subcontractors. Thus, for example, a migrant from Vietnam now being held at the camp in Golyanovo, after signing a contract with some subcontractor of a World Cup licensee manufacturing mascot dolls for the championship, will be legalized de jure. De facto, however, he or she will go back to another semi-underground workplace, but now no one will be able to exercise any oversight or supervision. Now the migrants who are liberated from slavery or buried after they burn to death in sweatshops locked from the outside will be absolutely legal. It’s a sleight of hand, as they say.

The anti-migration campaign of the authorities stokes openly racist attitudes in society, shifting public attention from societal and labor issues (which had recently come to the forefront) to the search for scapegoats. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that the practice of stripping migrant workers who are employed in the preparations for the 2018 World Cup of their rights will not be extended to all foreign workers tomorrow, and incorporated in the Russian Federal Labor Code the day after tomorrow, thus fulfilling the most cherished dreams of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

The fight against xenophobia, the persecution of migrants and the violation of their rights must, therefore, become one of the main issues on the agenda of the trade union and labor movement in Russia.

__________

golianovo_a

Migrants at the deportation camp in Golyanovo, which instantly became a household name. Photo © The Moscow News.

golyanovo_slaves_a

The name Golyanovo had been linked with migration even earlier, however. In the photo we see the liberated “slaves of Golyanovo,” who had been held for years in the basement of a grocery store, and their saviors from non-governmental organizations. Despite the best efforts of human rights activists, the criminal case against the slave owners has fallen apart. Photo courtesy of the LiveJournal blog Living Tomorrow.

egorievsk_a

During a fire at a garment factory in Yegorievsk, fourteen migrants from Vietnam perished. They were locked in the factory and thus could not escape to safety. A year later, punishment for the perpetrators of this crime is still a distant prospect. Photo courtesy of 1.tv.ru.

Free Babi Badalov!

Babi Badalov is an old friend of ours. From the late eighties until the late nineties, Babi was one of the brightest figures on the Petersburg independent art scene, especially that part of it that centered on the artists squat at Pushkinskaya 10. When the squat was closed, in the late nineties (to be replaced by an “official” alternative arts center with much less room for artist studios and independent creativity), Babi fell on hard times, eventually returning to his home country of Azerbaijan. He continued to pursue his art there, although under quite different circumstances. Not only is Babi a radical artist in the personal sense of the word, he is also openly gay. Faced with a society that was growing both less tolerant of political dissent and becoming more socially conservative, Babi found a new home in Cardiff, Wales. There he has become fully integrated into the local arts community. He has also become the focus of a spirited campaign, led by No Borders South Wales, to support his asylum application and, in the last few months, after his application was rejected, to resist his repatriation to Azerbaijan.

On September 16, Babi was detained during his weekly sign-in at the UK Border Agency and taken to the Rumney Police Station. On Thursday morning, Babi was transferred to the Campsfield Immigration Removal Centre. It has now been learned that British authorities are planning to deport him to Azerbaijan on Saturday, on an Azerbaijan Airlines flight from London to Baku. Continue reading “Free Babi Badalov!”