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.