August 10, 2019
#Berlin, outside the Russian Embassy, Unter den Linden
#Rise4Idlib #Act4Idlib #EyesOnIdlib
August 10, 2019
#Berlin, outside the Russian Embassy, Unter den Linden
#Rise4Idlib #Act4Idlib #EyesOnIdlib
“Everything There Is like a Horror Film Now”:
Young Refugees Talk about War, Fleeing Home, and Living in Russia
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, 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, 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.
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.
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:
What Happens to Syrian Refugees in Saint Petersburg
September 9, 2015
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.
Olga 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
Ripe for Exploitation
August 24, 2015
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.
“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.”
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.”