Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 20:36 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Russian Federation

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Russian Federation, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

RUS figures


The Russian Federation hosted some 159,500 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2007. Most, about 84,500, were from Afghanistan and had either fled the mujahideen who overthrew the pro-Soviet Najibullah regime in 1992 or the Taliban thereafter. About 45,000 were from Georgia and, beginning around 1993, had fled separatist fighting in its Abkhazia and South Ossetia Provinces. About 30,000 were from various other countries.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

As many as a third of the more than 28,000 persons whose expulsion the Government ordered were potential asylum seekers denied opportunity to apply for protection, according to the human rights organization Memorial. As many as a quarter of these left the country to avoid detention or illegal status. Nationals of other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries – including refugee producers Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Moldova – did not need visas to enter. Many of these, including refugees, however, left the Russian Federation in the first half of the year in response to vigorous enforcement of new restrictions on foreign labor (see below).

In March, Russia deported a Falun Gong advocate, whom the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized as a refugee, and her eight-year-old daughter to China, despite a scheduled hearing for her asylum appeal later that month. Authorities barred access to her lawyer, UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, an interpreter, and her husband. Chinese authorities arrested her upon arrival and held her for nine days.

In April, four months after the Prosecutor General had denied an Uzbek's extradition, unknown assailants possibly in cooperation with agents of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) and the Sverdlovsk police kidnapped and forcefully returned him to Uzbekistan, where authorities imprisoned him.

In May, authorities denied the asylum claim of a 73-year-old, disabled Falun Gong practitioner and, despite his pending appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), returned him to China. Also in May, a court found the head of the Moscow immigration detention center guilty of exceeding official powers for allowing the deportation of an asylum applicant to Uzbekistan in 2006, despite the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation having decided that the Government could not extradite him. (Upon his return, Uzbek authorities sentenced him to five-and-a-half years' imprisonment.)

In December, the Government extradited the husband of a Russian national to Uzbekistan less than two weeks after police had arrested him in Tyumen, western Siberia, despite a 2006 court ruling against doing so. The ECHR also ordered the Government not to extradite him for fear that the Uzbek authorities might jail and/or torture him for allegedly attempting a coup, membership in a banned religious group, and fomenting religious hatred: charges punishable by between 3 and 15 years in prison. The Russian human rights ombudsman had also asked for a delay in the extradition.

Border guards and Aeroflot airlines systematically denied individuals who sought asylum access to FMS and deported them, sometimes to countries where they feared persecution. The Government fined airlines if it had to admit such passengers to the country. Persons arriving at borders or airports and not yet admitted to the territory applied to one of 114 Point of Immigration Control (PICs), sub-organs of FMS, for admissibility review. The PIC at the airport last accepted a case in 1999. The 1997 Law on Refugees allowed five days for this, during which time authorities held asylum seekers in transit zones or other facilities. Although nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were able to provide counsel in some areas, they did not have access to the airports.

The Russian Federation was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol without reservation. The 1993 Constitution provided for "political asylum ... in conformity with the commonly recognized norms of the international law." The 1997 Law on Refugees prohibited the forced return of asylum applicants, refugees, and persons granted temporary asylum, but there was little systematic protection for refugees.

The 1997 Decree on Political Asylum provided a stringent procedure for granting asylum to political figures targeted for persecution. According to the Government, only 10 to 20 persons applied for political asylum per year, and most persons seeking protection filed for refugee status instead.

The 1997 Law on Refugees outlined a procedure for granting refugee status using the definition from the 1951 Convention. FMS received and decided claims. Refugee status lasted for three years and was annually renewable thereafter, if grounds remained. The Government implemented and interpreted the 1997 Law on Refugees and the 1951 Convention restrictively, including a "safe third country" rule, a 24-hour deadline for applications, exclusion of applicants for marriage to Russian citizens, and a narrow interpretation of the refugee definition. A 2002 FMS instruction concluded that, because CIS countries were stable and their laws prohibited persecution, most persons from them were economic migrants.

The 1997 Law on Refugees also provided for granting temporary asylum to persons who met the refugee definition or whom the Government could not deport for humanitarian reasons. Although, according to the Law, temporary asylum was valid for one year, authorities in Rostov issued it to Afghans for three or six months. According to the Government, persons in danger of "foreign aggression, occupation or events that seriously disrupt the internal political situation or human rights in that country"; "torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading forms of treatment or punishment"; and persons from failed states could benefit. The 2001 Resolution on Temporary Asylum defined the procedure.

Russia was party to the 1957 European Convention on Extradition, which prohibits extradition for "political crimes." It was also party, however, to the Minsk Convention, which allowed no such exception. The latter did, however, require detention, which the Code of Criminal Procedure governed and which did have a provision exempting persons already granted asylum from extradition. Sometimes authorities simply ignored the law in the cases of requesting parties such as Uzbekistan and North Korea, which had strong ties with Russia. According to Memorial, special services of these countries operated freely in Russia and participated in the detention of their citizens for extradition.

The Government did not grant legal status to UNHCR mandate refugees, but tolerated their presence subject to UNHCR's commitment to support them and find durable solutions.

The Government received nearly 3,400 asylum applications and changed its procedures to receive more applicants, up from three per week, and schedule people for interviews earlier. Under the previous system, FMS had scheduled some applicants for 2010. It granted refugee status to 140 persons and temporary asylum to 402, a slight increase from the year before. Nearly 1,300 applied to UNHCR, which referred them all to FMS, whose officials, according to the U.S. State Department, "continued to demonstrate widespread ignorance of refugee law."

There were 230 xenophobic attacks and conflicts in Moscow alone, killing about 70 and injuring hundreds. In February, men attacked two Uzbeks in St. Petersburg, killing one and seriously injuring the other. Police arrested seven for murder and hooliganism, and the prosecutor's office indicated that the attacks were racially motivated.

In the spring, citing security concerns, UNHCR closed its Ingushetia office monitoring asylum seekers from Georgia and other countries.

Detention/Access to Courts

In addition to the thousands of potential asylum seekers the Government administratively expelled, authorities detained 26 persons of concern to UNHCR during the year. In May, authorities detained an Uzbek shortly after he applied to UNHCR for recognition as a refugee. In June, Uzbekistan National Security Service agents kidnapped another Uzbek outside his apartment in Krasnogorsk and turned him over to local police. According to Memorial, when they "learned that he did not appear on any international wanted lists, the Russian police offered to provide 'cover' for the Uzbek security officials if they quickly presented a search warrant for the detained." Police withheld his application to UNHCR for refugee status. After a municipal court ordered his continued detention for eventual deportation, authorities transferred him to a center from which he could apply for asylum, but he remained in detention at year's end.

In August, St. Petersburg FMS detained in its offices an Eritrean who had gone there to apply for temporary asylum and threatened to deport him if he did not volunteer to leave in two weeks. Only upon a lawyer's intervention did FMS agree to accept his asylum application.

In September, the Government released on a Moscow court order an Uzbek asylum seeker it had detained in January and whose application it had denied in March. A district court in Meshchansky ordered his expulsion in August just after prosecutors rejected the extradition request. Authorities kept him in detention and reportedly denied UNHCR access to him until September, when the ECHR ordered the Government to suspend the expulsion. Also in September, authorities arrested another Falun Gong practitioner. Moscow's Presnensky area court ordered his administrative expulsion, but an appellate court overturned the order and ordered his release.

In November, militia abducted a North Korean asylum seeker in front of an FMS office in Moscow, which had called him in and turned him over to agents of the North Korean special services. He later escaped from a facility in Vladivostok, from which he understood authorities would repatriate him. Local residents hid him and the intervention of the NGO Civic Assistance, UNHCR, and the human rights ombudsman prevented his deportation. At year's end, he and his Russian-citizen common-law wife were in hiding while seeking resettlement in a third country.

Detention for deportation or administrative expulsion was subject to judicial review. Courts or local prosecutors' offices reviewed detention cases but, without documentation, they generally authorized the detention or its extension. The 2002 Code of Administrative Offenses, which provided for detention of persons courts ordered expelled, did not specify any terms of release short of actual removal resulting sometimes in indefinite detention. Authorities informed UNHCR of asylum applicants they detained for expulsion for lack of documents.

The 1993 Constitution provided that "no person may be detained for more than 48 hours without" a court order.

The 1997 Law on Refugees authorized FMS to issue certificates to asylum seekers formally in the national procedure, identity documents to recognized refugees, and temporary asylum certificates to persons with that status, providing a legal basis for them and their families to remain.

In March, a regional court ordered authorities to release 12 Uzbeks with refugee status under UNHCR's mandate they had detained for the past 20 months in Ivanovo, but authorities refused until the ECHR intervened. After FMS denied them even temporary asylum, they appealed to the ECHR and the Government permitted them to remain pending a decision. Uzbek authorities had sought their extradition for alleged involvement in disturbances in Andijan in 2005.

Under international agreements and informal arrangements with former Soviet States, the Government detained persons with outstanding warrants from those countries for up to a month while prosecutors investigated the cases, included those of opposition figures for whom there were no other legal grounds for detaining. In October, the ECHR found that such detention violated the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms provisions against arbitrary detention and assuring due process.

Authorities subjected persons from Africa, the Caucasus, or Central Asia to far more frequent document checks, forcible entrances, searches, detention, excessive fines, extortion, and arbitrary refusal of residential registration stamps. Police investigations of violent xenophobic attacks were frequently ineffective or indifferent, and refugees and asylum seekers were often reluctant to report them to the police. In June, however, a St. Petersburg court sentenced four men to prison for the racially motivated killing of an African student in St. Petersburg in September 2005. Prosecutors had re-tried the four after a jury had acquitted them in 2006.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The Government restricted freedom of movement and residence by requiring all adults, regardless of their status, to have internal passports registering their place of sojourn or residence while traveling and to register with local authorities within 90 days of arrival at new locations. Authorities often singled out persons from the Caucasus or Central Asia for checks of such documents, arbitrary fines, or bribes.

The 1993 Constitution offered freedom of movement to everyone legally in the territory, not excepting asylum seekers and refugees. The law did not expressly restrict the movement of persons with pending refugee status or certificates of asylum claims, but only a few hundred persons had these. The 1997 Law on Refugees obliged refugees and temporary asylees to inform the respective migration service of any change in their residence within seven days. The law also required asylum seekers, temporary asylees, and refugees to surrender their national passports and other identity documents to the migration service prior to receiving certificates acknowledging their status. The Government issued them certificates valid for exiting and reentering the country but also required exit visas.

The 2006 law "On migration (registration) of foreign citizens and stateless persons in the Russian Federation" required foreigners to notify the authorities of their presence in person or by form within three days of arrival. Law enforcement officials, however, still asked to see passports, the migration cards foreigners received upon entry, and stamped application forms.

One Iranian refugee and her two children had to spend nine months at Moscow's international airport, sleeping on the floor and bathing in public restrooms. She had received mandate status at the end of 2006 and authorities allowed her to leave for Canada in March.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

While the 1997 Law on Refugees allowed the few refugees and asylum applicants with documentation and residential registration to accept wage labor on par with nationals and to run business enterprises, most refugees and asylum seekers did not have such documentation. The 2002 Code of Administrative Offenses provided for expulsion for illegal employment and the 2002 Law on Foreigners required all foreigners to have permits to work, but the Government issued them only to the employers who then issued them to the workers. Firms had to apply with FMS and obtain a certificate that there were no Russians seeking the job. The Government also limited the number of permits through quotas, charged employers a deposit for the cost of the migrants' return, with no exception for refugees or asylum seekers.

In 2006, the Duma passed "On the legal situation of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation," providing that FMS or the regional migration services would issue work permits 10 days after applicant's submission of identity documents, migration cards with stamps from border guards or migration offices, and 1,000 rubles (about $40) without requiring employer sponsorship. The 2006 Presidential Decree, "On the introduction of quotas for foreign workers, agricultural workers and traders in the Russian Federation for 2007," set a quota of 6 million and forbade foreigners from selling alcoholic beverages or pharmaceuticals. The law limited foreigners to 40 percent of kiosks and open-air markets until April 2007 and none thereafter. Russia's 5,200 markets were the last remaining legal livelihood for many de facto refugees from Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, who had ties to produce suppliers in warmer climates, and accounted for a fifth of all retail trade. These provisions did not apply to persons with residence permits or to recognized refugees, but authorities enforced them against them anyway, especially against Afghans.

It also could take weeks for migrants to get the permits from FMS (although, according to the Government, they could also register at hundreds of post offices) and fines for employing illegal workers were up to 800,000 rubles (about $32,700). Employers were also liable for the costs of deporting illegal workers. FMS fined more than 160,000 employers a total of 4.5 billion rubles (about $184 million), an amount roughly equivalent to the 5.5 billion rubles (about $225 million) individuals paid in property taxes in 2006. Prosecutors brought nearly 200 criminal cases for organizing illegal immigration. FMS offices in St. Petersburg conducted about 21,500 raids on construction and trading sites, housing, industrial, and agricultural facilities and deported 366 individuals to CIS countries during the first six months the law was in force. Some 2 million guest workers received permits, four times the year before, and mostly from CIS countries.

Authorities denied sole proprietor registration to Afghans with temporary asylum.

The 1997 Law on Refugees implicitly recognized the right of refugees to own residential property in that it provided for their expulsion from public housing should they acquire any. The Land Code provided that foreigners could own land, but not in border territories the president designated. If asylum seekers had legal status, then under the 2002 Law on Foreigners they could acquire housing and land on par with other foreigners.

Public Relief and Education

Under the 1997 Law on Refugees, recognized refugees had rights to medical services, education, vocational training, and social security on par with nationals. Authorities denied services to those without proper registration, however, and UNHCR had to provide for nonemergency medical assistance.

The 1993 Constitution guaranteed free education to all from pre-school to college. The 1997 Law on Refugees guaranteed refugee children access to state and municipal schools on par with nationals. A 2002 Decree by Moscow area authorities required only indication of their place of residence for access to primary education. It also required schools to report to the authorities those who did not submit sojourn or residence registration. In other regions of the Russian Federation, however, registration rules and lack of documentation still effectively barred asylum seeker children from education.

While the 1993 Constitution provided a universal "right to health care and medical assistance," it also limited its mandate upon the Government to provide free medical aid to citizens. The law guaranteed refugees access to health services, but those lacking residential registration could not participate in the insurance plan and had access to emergency care only.

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