Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Russian Federation

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Russian Federation, 11 July 2007, available at: [accessed 23 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.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

As many as one third of the 55,800 persons whose expulsion the Government ordered were potential asylum seekers denied opportunity to apply for protection, according to the human rights organization Memorial.

In the fall, in response to the arrest of Russian officers in Georgia on espionage charges, authorities launched a campaign against ethnic Georgians in Russia, including refugees from the ten-year Abkhazia conflict. The Government reported Georgians committed more than 27,400 administrative violations of migration rules and regulations governing their stay in Russia. It also reported that its judges ordered more than 5,600 expulsions of Georgians and actually deported around 4,000. Authorities delivered Georgians in large groups without lawyers to courts, which issued pre-determined administrative expulsion orders in minutes. Often they did not admit the detainees to the courtroom, keeping them in hallways or even in cars outside. The Government acknowledged that authorities submitted inaccurate information to courts resulting in expulsion orders. Prosecutors later filed 22 corrective appeals in Moscow city courts, which overturned 16 of the district court expulsion rulings.

The Government forcibly returned at least three asylum seekers registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Moscow to Afghanistan and presumably more from other locations. According to the Government, it expelled 62 Afghans in the first quarter of 2006, "including four by force," and extradited 19 Uzbeks. Russian militia members received bonuses for returning detained persons to Uzbek authorities. In October, authorities deported asylum seeker Rustam Muminov to Uzbekistan without a court hearing his extradition appeal, just days before UNHCR had scheduled a status determination interview, and after the European Court of Human Rights had called for suspension of the extradition. A local court in Lipetsk had earlier ordered authorities to set him free, and a Moscow court later ruled his deportation illegal. In November, authorities deported two Uzbek brothers from Krasnoyarsk in Siberia for allegedly violating immigration laws and handed them over to Uzbek authorities.

In August, the Government sought the extradition of 13 UNHCR-recognized refugees to Uzbekistan, where rights advocates and Western governments suspected authorities of routinely torturing detainees, in response to accusations that they supported the Andijan unrest of 2005. It later suspended the extradition to allow the European Court of Human Rights to review the case. In November, the Supreme Court upheld the extradition. A month later, however, the Oktyabrsky District Court overturned the denial of their asylum claims because the Federal Migration Service (FMS) had not sufficiently shown the absence of torture in Uzbekistan, taken cognizance of UNHCR's grant of mandate refugee status, or considered the nonrefoulement principle of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. In January 2007, an appellate court upheld this judgment and the Government withdrew its other appeals. Finally, in March, a court in Ivanovo ordered their release.

Border guards and Aeroflot airlines often denied asylum seekers access to FMS and returned them to their countries of origin, including to countries where they had a well-founded fear of persecution. The Government fined airlines and charged them for food and medical services if it admitted such passengers to the country but not if the airline returned the passengers to the country of origin. The FMS Point of Immigration Control (PIC) had not accepted a case at the airport since 1999.

At least four Georgians died in custody for lack of medical attention pending deportation. In December, Manana Dzhabelia, a 52-year-old refugee from Georgia, died of a heart attack awaiting deportation in a Moscow holding center. By the time of her death, a court had overturned the decision to deport her as unlawful.

Refugees, NGOs, and the press reported that police beat, arrested, and extorted money from persons who appeared to be non-Slavic, including Roma and those from the Caucasus, Central Asia, or Africa. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, assailants committed more than 150 crimes "of an extremist nature" against non-Russians. Xenophobic attacks reportedly killed more than 50 persons and injured nearly 470 (up from about 30 and 410 the year before), mostly in Moscow.

In a 10-day period in late July and early August in Moscow, skinheads beat two Iranians outside Frunzenskaya Metro Station, shot a non-Slav looking veteran with an air gun, stabbed to death a 19-year-old man from Uzbekistan, wounded a Turkish national, and stabbed three people from Dagestan several times, hospitalizing two of them with life-threatening injuries. A bomb attack in August directed against central Asian traders in Moscow killed ten, including Uzbeks.

The Russian Federation was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and to its 1967 Protocol without reservations. The 1993 Constitution provided for "political asylum ... in conformity with the commonly recognized norms of international law." The 1997 Law on Refugees contained guarantees against the forced return of asylum applicants, refugees, and persons granted temporary asylum. The 1997 Decree on Political Asylum provided a procedure for granting asylum to political figures targeted for persecution, but it was nearly impossible to get. According to the Government, only 10 to 20 persons applied for it per year, and most persons seeking protection filed for refugee status instead, "since the federal law 'On Refugees' provides more governmental support." According to the Government, no one had ever received political asylum (although Memorial knew of one case since 1995).

In offering refugee status, the 1997 Law on Refugees used the definition of refugee from the 1951 Convention. FMS received and decided claims with the right of appeal. Refugee status lasted for three years and was annually renewable thereafter, if grounds remained. The Government applied a "safe third country" rule, a 24-hour deadline for applications, and narrow interpretation of the refugee definition. A 2002 FMS instruction concluded that, due to stability in countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and because their laws prohibited persecution, persons from CIS were ineligible for refugee status, including applicants from repressive regimes such as those in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The Government did not allow applicants counsel in, or public monitoring of, its administrative procedure. Applicants, however, did have the right to appeal decisions and actions of national authorities in court, with counsel and public access, and the judiciary was an effective venue for enforcement of their rights.

In 1997-98, the Government removed most of those granted refugee status in earlier years from its registry as they had not reapplied under the 1997 Law on Refugees. It had not notified them of the need to do so. This rendered about 100,000 former Soviet citizens in the Russian Federation illegal migrants with the possibility of expulsion. An amendment in January extended the deadline for former Soviet citizens to obtain citizenship until 2008, simplified some earlier requirements, and allowed those with post-2002 residence permits to apply.

The 1997 Law on Refugees also provided for granting temporary asylum for one year to persons who met the refugee definition or whom the Government could not deport for humanitarian reasons. According to the Government, persons in danger of "foreign aggression, occupation ... 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 also benefit. The 2001 Resolution on Temporary Asylum defined the procedure. Application for temporary asylum could not halt expulsion if a court ordered it.

In mid-2005 authorities ceased to renew Afghans' temporary asylum, declaring, "Modern Afghan society is noted for a high level of political tolerance ... there are no grounds of fear of being subjected to persecution on the part of the present Afghan authorities for their past activities." Most Afghans in the Russian Federation fled the Northern Alliance that overthrew the Najibula regime in 1992, not the Taliban.

Persons arriving at borders or airports and not yet admitted to the territory applied to one of 114 Points of Immigration Control (PIC), sub-organs of FMS, for admissibility review. The 1997 law allowed five days for this, during which time authorities held asylum seekers in transit zones or other facilities, and required persons rejected even at the admissibility level to leave the country within three days, obviating the right to appeal. In other cases, it provided an appeal decision within a month. The PICs referred rejected cases, without granting them legal entry, to UNHCR for resettlement.

In the interior process, asylum seekers in Moscow had to wait up to three years to have their claims heard, during which time they remained undocumented and vulnerable to police harassment.

In December, FMS ceased issuing certificates to applicants with their interview dates and started seizing certificates it had issued earlier. Asylum seekers had used them to appeal courts' refusals to accept their applications. Authorities also told the militia that the certificates were not binding and that their bearers were not going through status determinations. Authorities typically arrested asylum seekers for lack of residential registration under the 2002 Code of Administrative Offenses, sought their expulsion, and detained them throughout the process. About 150 applicants with lawyers were able to appeal such orders in the courts with a 70 percent success rate, arguing that the 1997 Law on Refugees protected them against refoulement whether the Government provided them with certificates in a timely fashion or not.

UNHCR provided legal assistance and counseling through the Refugee Reception Centre (RRC) in Moscow and the Refugee Counseling Centre (RCC) in St. Petersburg to determine eligibility for UNHCR's protection and aid, to identify durable solutions, and to monitor the national procedure. 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 Russian Federation granted refugee status to 41 persons during the year, three-quarters of them Afghans, or less than four percent of those who applied. Fewer than 400 persons held refugee status at the end of the year, just over half of them from Afghanistan and 31 percent from Georgia. The trend was steadily down from about 8,700 in 2003, 26,100 in 2000, and 239,400 in 1997. During the year, 11 regional FMS offices granted temporary asylum to 275 persons – a fourth of those who applied – 244 of them from Afghanistan. Over a thousand persons held temporary asylum at the end of the year, almost all of them from Afghanistan. Hundreds of Uzbeks continued to flee and seek asylum but the Russian Federation granted it to none of them.

Detention/Access to Courts

In St. Petersburg, authorities held Georgians pending deportation with virtually no food for days, some in railway cars. The Government detained at least seven UNHCR-registered asylum seekers in Moscow as illegal migrants after they exhausted the national procedure. Although Russian law limited the period in which an individual could be held to 180 days without a request from the Prosecutor General, officials refused to release the 12 Uzbek and one Kyrgyz refugee they had detained since June 2005 when this period expired in December.

Detention, whether for deportation or administrative expulsion, was subject to judicial review. Authorities detained asylum seekers for deportation as illegal aliens if migration authorities did not provide them with documentation. Courts or local prosecutors' offices reviewed detention cases but, without documentation, they generally authorized the detention or its extension. Authorities informed UNHCR of asylum seekers they detained for expulsion for lack of documents, and they had access to legal counsel. UNHCR, however, was able to monitor only one detention center for illegal migrants in Moscow.

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. Other national authorities recognized these documents. Pending appeal, however, FMS seized application certificates, making it impossible for appellants to register their residence. In June, FMS handcuffed and detained for deportation a Palestinian who re-applied for temporary asylum, denied in 2005, based on changed circumstances.

Police did not systematically investigate assaults against non-Slavic asylum seekers and others unless victims filed complaints or treated them with indifference and rarely prosecuted them as hate crimes. In many cases, asylum seekers did not file complaints for fear of prosecution for immigration violations, retaliation, or lack of confidence in the outcome. Bias crime convictions, however, rose to 28 from 16 in 2005 and eight in 2004. In May, a district court in Bashkortostan sentenced two Ufa residents to more than five years imprisonment for severely beating an Iraqi student in 2005.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The 1993 Constitution offered freedom of movement to everyone legally in the territory, but the Government severely restricted freedom of movement and residence by requiring all persons, regardless of their status, to have registration at the place of sojourn or residence – a remnant of the Soviet-era propiska system. Authorities discriminated against non-Slavic ethnic groups by denying them registration. A number of local governments, including those of Moscow City, Moscow Region, and Krasnodar Krai had regional acts allowing them to deny migrants residential registration. It could take months for refugees to obtain residential registration. Police constantly checked registration and often singled out traveling asylum seekers and refugees, identifying them by their non-Slavic appearance, and fined them or extorted bribes in lieu of detention or expulsion.

The 1997 Law on Refugees obliged refugees and temporary asylees to inform the respective migration service of any change in their places of residence within seven days. The penalty for failure to do so was an administrative fine although, in at least one case, the migration service stripped the temporary asylum status of an Afghan. Even though the law did not provide for this penalty, a court affirmed the action.

The law 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 re-entering the country, but also required exit visas.

Krasnodar Kray authorities granted Meskhetian Turks residence permits if they had Russian passports but denied them to those who did not, effectively rendering them stateless. Authorities permitted them only temporary registration and required them to reregister every 45 days. About 23,000 applied to emigrate and, because nearly 11,000 Meskhetian Turks had left since 2004, police officers issued fewer arbitrary fines against them but continued to stop, check, and fine those not emigrating.

One Iranian refugee and her two children had to spend nine months at Moscow's Sheremytevo-2 international airport, sleeping on the floor and bathing in public restrooms. She received mandate status in December and authorities allowed her to leave for Canada in March 2007.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

While the 1997 Law on Refugees allowed documented refugees and asylum seekers with residential registration to accept wage labor on par with nationals and to run business enterprises, most were unable to do so legally because such documentation was nearly impossible to obtain. The Code of Administrative Offenses also provided for expulsion for illegal employment. Furthermore, the 2002 Law on Foreigners required all foreigners to have permits to work, but the Government only issued them to their employers. Workers could use the permits only with those employers, for those specific jobs, and for the designated contract period. Firms had to apply with FMS and obtain a certificate that there were no Russians seeking the job, a process that took months. The Government also limited the number of permits through quotas, charged employers a deposit for the cost of the migrants' return, required them to facilitate the workers' exit and pay for deportation, if necessary, and made no exception for refugees or asylum seekers. Migrant workers could not join unions.

Open air markets presented some of the few opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers to earn livelihoods, but these were the targets of xenophobic attacks, including a bombing at Cherkizovsky market in Moscow in August that killed ten, including several Uzbeks. In November, authorities refused to admit Afghans to Traktorozavodky market in Volgograd and destroyed their workplaces. In the fall anti-Georgian campaign, authorities raided and conducted widespread inspections of Georgian-owned businesses or those that employed Georgians. In November, the Government published official quotas for foreign labor, completely banning foreigners from working in retail sales of alcohol and pharmaceuticals, as of January 2007, and in retail sales in kiosks and open air markets and other commerce outside stores – the last remaining legal livelihood for many, if not most de facto refugees – as of April.

Krasnodar Kray authorities denied residence permits to Meskhetian Turks who did not apply to emigrate, prohibited them from leasing land, working, or doing business, and denied sole proprietor registration to Afghans with temporary asylum.

The 1997 Law on Refugees at least 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 another legal status under the 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.

The 1993 Constitution guaranteed free education to all from pre-school to college, the latter on a competitive basis. 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, but regional authorities sometimes denied access to asylum seekers lacking residential registration. 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. Officials from the Department of Internal Affairs ordered Moscow schools to produce lists of Georgians studying there to check compliance with migration regulations.

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 had access to emergency services only.

Search Refworld