Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 11:55 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Russia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 14 June 2006
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Russia , 14 June 2006, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
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

According to the human rights organization, Memorial, one third of the 75,000 persons who left the country under Government orders, 16,000 of whom the authorities forcibly removed, were asylum seekers without adequate opportunity to apply for protection. In June, authorities abducted Uzbek Alisher Usmanov after his release from prison in Kazan and extradited him to Uzbekistan. In November, Uzbek authorities sentenced him to eight years imprisonment in Namangan. In October, Tatarstan authorities deported Marcel Isaev, an Uzbek student and asylum seeker, allegedly for lack of registration, which had expired three days earlier. According to human rights groups, however, they did so because he refused to testify falsely against classmates accused of membership in the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir and, instead, denounced the person pressuring him to perjure himself. Upon return, Uzbek authorities held him incommunicado for ten days. After the Government received an extradition request from Uzbekistan, the Federal Migration Service (FMS) rejected the applications of 13 Uzbeks who applied for refugee status after Russian authorities had detained them in June. They appealed and, as of February 2006, awaited a court's decision. According to Memorial, Russian militia received bonuses for returning detained persons to Uzbek authorities.

At Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, Aeroflot deported at least two registered asylum seekers in 2005 and authorities deported many others without proper documents before they could claim asylum with FMS. The Government fined airlines and charged them for food and medical services if it had to admit such passengers to the country but not if the airline returned the passengers to the country of origin. The Government maintained 114 Points of Immigration Control offices (PIC) at airports and borders. They allowed no appeals but referred rejected cases, without granting them legal entry, to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for resettlement. From 2004 until mid-2005, the Government re-assigned all eligibility officers from the airport PIC to the Moscow Region Migration Service, leaving only one person in the office who had no experience in refugee status determination or assessments, and, on some days, no one at all. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) providing legal representation had no access to restricted areas of airports.

FMS granted refugee status to fewer than 500 persons from former Soviet republics (down from over 10,000 as late as 2002 and from over 100,000 in 1998) and to only 21 persons from other countries. Hundreds of Uzbeks fled the bloody crackdown in Andijan in May but the Russian Federation granted none of them asylum.

Applicants for refugee status in Moscow received a note with only the date and time of the interview, often three or four years in the future, and no information on the migration body or the person issuing it. The documents did not affirm the legality of the applicants' presence, but they were an improvement on the earlier practice of no registration at all. The Government frequently prosecuted asylum seekers under the 2002 Code of Administrative Offenses for lack of residential registration (violation of "sojourn," a holdover from the propiska or internal passport requirement of the Soviet era). Applicants with lawyers were able to overturn such orders in the courts with a 100 percent success rate, arguing that the 1993 Law on Refugees (revised 1997) protected them against refoulement whether the Government provided them with certificates in a timely fashion or not. UNHCR provided asylum seekers and refugees legal assistance and counseling through the Refugee Reception Centre in Moscow and the Refugee Counseling Centre in St. Petersburg. In some regions, migration bodies orally refused to accept claims from foreigners at all, rendering their decisions impossible to appeal. In the determination process, authorities generally did not inform applicants that they might have assistance. Fear of detention deterred many from even applying.

The Constitution provided for asylum and, in law, there were three types of protection: "political asylum," refugee status, and "temporary asylum." The 1997 Decree on Political Asylum provided a procedure for granting political asylum to a narrow class of political figures and, since 1995, the authorities had granted it to no more than ten people.

The Law on Refugees used the definition of refugee from the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. FMS received and decided claims with the right of appeal. Refugee status was granted for three years and was annually renewable thereafter, if grounds remained. Persons who entered illegally had to apply within 24 hours and, under the concept of "safe third country," authorities could reject Afghan asylum seekers for passing through Central Asia. In 1997-98, the Government removed most of those granted refugee status in earlier years from the registry as they had not reapplied under the Law on Refugees without notice of the need to do so. Migration bodies had earlier issued "certificates of non-established pattern" before expunging their names, rendering about 100,000 former Soviet citizens in the Russian Federation as illegal migrants with the possibility of expulsion to countries where authorities and non-state actors had seized their property and threatened their lives.

The Law on Refugees also provided for granting temporary asylum to persons whom the Government could not deport for humanitarian reasons. The 2001 Decree on Granting Temporary Asylum defined the procedure, however, only mentioning health grounds for granting it and a 2001 Federal Ministry instruction reiterated this limitation.

UNHCR received reports of 21 violent xenophobic assaults on asylum seekers and refugees in the Moscow area alone, 60 percent of them Afghans. In February, an Afghan asylum seeker, one of the "Aghan orphans" sent to the former Soviet Union in 1985, died from knife wounds in the South-West Administrative District of Moscow City. In March, authorities found the body of an Afghan refugee slated for resettlement in the United States in a forest near Verbilki with visible trauma to the head as cause of death. He had been a social worker with Opora, a Moscow-based refugee agency. 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. The police opened investigations into the killings, but did not do so systematically for assaults unless victims filed a complaint. Asylum seekers rarely launched such complaints out of fear of prosecution for immigration violations, retaliation, or lack of confidence in the outcome.

In 2005, about 5,000 Meskhetian Turks resettled in the United States along with a few hundred Armenians from Baku residing in the Moscow area. A few others resettled in Europe through UNHCR. UNHCR helped nearly 200 refugees and asylum seekers to repatriate voluntarily, more than 90 percent of them Afghans.

Detention/Access to Courts

UNHCR received reports that local law enforcement agents detained 618 asylum seekers in the Moscow area alone, three-quarters of them for lack of residential registration. Police singled out persons who appeared to be non-Slavic for internal residential document checks.

In June, at the request of Uzbek authorities, Russian secret police detained 14 ethnic Uzbeks, including 1 of Russian and another of Kyrgyz nationality, in Ivanovo and charged them with connection to the disturbances in Andijan, Uzbekistan, despite the fact that several had resided in Russia for years. Authorities released the Russian, who fled the country, but, at year's end, the remaining 13 were still in detention after a judge rejected their claims that the detentions were illegal.

In August, in the Tymen region, security services detained Bayramali Yusupov, who fled from Uzbekistan in 1999 after authorities there accused him of Islamic extremism. Russian authorities denied his asylum request. In November, authorities detained two other Uzbeks in Novosibirsk in response to a request from Uzbek authorities. Authorities also detained several Uzbeks for practicing nontraditional forms of Islam or under reportedly fabricated drug or gun charges.

Authorities in detention centers for deportable aliens, from which many sought to appeal their cases, greatly restricted communication with the outside world, even denying detainees pens and paper. Court appeals could last six months or more.

The Constitution provided that "no person may be detained for more than 48 hours without an order of a court of law." The Law on Foreign Citizens authorized detention for deportation, the Administrative Code for "administrative expulsion," and the legislation on border control for lack of proper documents. According to the Law on Refugees, persons with pending applications were entitled to a certificate acknowledging their status, but authorities introduced a pre-registration waiting period that lasted from two to four years. Courts or local prosecutors' offices reviewed detention cases but, absent legal documentation, they generally authorized it or its extension, sometimes for years.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The Government severely restricted freedom of movement and residence by requiring and rarely granting residential registration – a remnant of the Soviet-era propiska system. Authorities discriminated against non-Slavic ethnic groups by denying them registration.

The Constitution and Federal Law on Freedom of Movement offered freedom of movement to everyone legally in the territory, not excepting asylum seekers and refugees. The Government, however, implemented the law restrictively and a number of local governments, including those of Moscow City, Moscow Region, and Krasnodar Krai had regional acts allowing them to deny migrants sojourn 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 an expulsion order from the country.

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

The Law on Refugees required asylum seekers and refugees to surrender their national passports and other identity documents to the migration service prior to receiving certificates acknowledging their status. The certificates were valid for exiting and re-entering the country, but the authorities also required exit visas.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

In March, local police fined employers in the construction industry in Moscow some $2,200 per worker for employing refugees and asylum seekers in a program organized by Memorial and UNHCR.

While the Constitution and the Law on Refugees allowed documented refugees and asylum seekers with residential registration to accept wage labor on par with nationals, and refugees to run business enterprises, most were unable to do so legally because such documentation was nearly impossible to obtain. Furthermore, the 2002 Law on Foreigners required all foreigners to have permits to work but only issued them to their employers. Workers could only 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 their issuance through quotas, charged employers a deposit for the cost of the migrants' return, and made no exception for refugees or asylum seekers. According to experts, the restrictions sustained an abusive shadow economy that consumed much of the labor, including that of refugees and asylum seekers, which would otherwise be available to legal enterprises. Even those who worked legally were only eligible for social security on par with other foreigners.

Because they were unable to participate in businesses legally, de facto refugees had to work with citizen partners who often took advantage of them. The 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.

Public Relief and Education

The Law on Refugees guaranteed refugee children access to state and municipal schools on par with residents, but regional authorities sometimes denied access to asylum seekers lacking residential registration.

A 2002 Decree by Moscow area authorities abolished the former rule conditioning primary education on residence or sojourn registration, and a subsequent instruction required only indication of their place of residence. The instruction also required the administration to report to the authorities those who did not submit sojourn or residence registration but UNHCR was not aware of any case of the authorities using this information against anyone in 2005. In other regions of the Russian Federation, however, registration rules and lack of documentation still effectively barred asylum seeker children from education.

While theoretically the Constitution and law guaranteed refugees access to health services, they were unavailable to most of them because they lacked residential registration. Refugees without status had access to emergency care only.

In May, the Federal Security Service Director said that foreign powers often used NGOs for espionage. In July, President Putin stated that he objected to foreign financing of political activity in Russia. In December, the State Duma and the Federation Council passed legislation that reportedly would restrict the work of NGOs but, at year's end, President Putin had not signed it.

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