U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Russian Federation

Russian Federation


Refoulement/Asylum  The Government refouled refugees who attempted to enter without proper documents, ordered twice as many administrative expulsions as the year before and expelled as many as 84,000 persons, many of them refugees, with no opportunity to apply for asylum. It prosecuted many of them under the Code of Administrative Violations for lack of residential registration (a holdover from the propiska or internal passport of the Soviet era) or for overstaying their visas.

The Government maintained 114 Points of Immigration Control offices (PICs) at airports and borders. Although PICs interviewed asylum seekers, they granted none asylum, allowed no appeals, and referred rejected cases, without granting them legal entry, to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which sought resettlement for those stranded in airports in danger of refoulement. Aeroflot airline's Fraud Prevention Division also deported asylum seekers without proper documents, even prior to PIC review. Authorities fined airlines if passengers without proper documents entered, but not if the airlines returned them to their countries of origin.

The Federal Migration Service (FMS) underwent reorganization under the Ministry of the Interior and the country lacked an effective asylum system although the Constitution provided for asylum and the 1993 Law on Refugees (amended in 1997) prohibited refoulement. The Law on Refugees required persons who entered illegally to apply within 24 hours and, under the concept of "safe third country," authorities could reject Afghan asylum seekers for passing through Central Asia. FMS considered persons from countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States – including those from repressive regimes, such as those of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and Meskhetian Turks fleeing ethnic persecution in Central Asia – categorically ineligible for refugee status. Authorities in Krasnodar gave the latter only 45-day renewable "guest" status in order to make conditions "unbearable" for them, as the governor put it.

Authorities also prevented asylum seekers from applying by refusing to accept or discarding their applications, by withholding information about the process, or by taking years to hear their claims while the applicants remained undocumented. Fear of detention also deterred many from applying. Of the 42,000 asylum seekers who had applied from outside the former Soviet Union since 1992, only about 3,000 cases remained active – the rest had left the country, resettled, repatriated, or gone underground. With legal assistance from UNHCR, however, some asylum seekers received protection through the courts.

Dark-skinned refugees and asylum seekers were subject to xenophobic assaults to which police reacted with indifference. In March, skinheads beat an ethnic Tajik asylum seeker from Afghanistan to death with metal bars in a Moscow subway. He had applied in 2000, but had still not received a hearing.

As many as 1.5 million citizens of former Soviet republics, including refugees, could naturalize under a December 2003 amendment to the Law on Citizenship that required residential registration since mid-2002 to qualify. Of the ethnic Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan living in Moscow, some 1,000 declined the opportunity, as it would change their status to that of "forced migrant" with no clear benefit, although about 260 accepted.

Detention  Hundreds of asylum seekers were detained for lack of residential registration. Two refugees had been confined to the transit zone of Sheremetyevo-2 airport for 15 months before UNHCR was able to resettle them. Authorities sentenced one Uzbek refugee to several months of detention for illegal entry and denied him asylum. About 20 persons the Government detained under extradition agreements applied for asylum; their extradition was postponed pending adjudication. Police singled out persons who physically appeared to be Roma or from Africa, the Caucasus, or Central Asia for residential registration checks and reportedly beat, extorted money from, and arrested them.

According to the Law on Refugees, persons with pending applications were entitled to a certificate acknowledging their status, but authorities introduced a preregistration waiting period that lasted from two to four years. During this time they could be detained indefinitely – sometimes for years – as illegal migrants if they lacked other documentation.

Right to Earn a Livelihood  While the Constitution and the Law on Refugees allowed documented refugees and asylum seekers with residential registration to pursue livelihoods on par with nationals, most were unable to do so legally because such documentation was nearly impossible to obtain. Most who worked did so illegally in the informal sector or under false identities – subject to xenophobic attacks and police harassment, lacking labor protections, and without access to courts.

The Memorial human rights center and UNHCR placed refugees and asylum seekers with construction firms and factories, but local police fined the businesses and threatened to shut them down for illegal employment of foreigners. The local government of Krasnodar forbade Meskhetian Turks from working, running businesses, or leasing land.

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 Sovietera propiska system of internal passports. Authorities used denial of registration to discriminate against particular ethnic groups such as Meskhetian Turks, Roma, and others. The Government invalidated passports of the former Soviet Union in the beginning of the year, creating opportunities for officials to extort money from those wishing to obtain new ones. Travel was extremely dangerous for all in and around Chechnya.

Public Relief and Education  The Law on Refugees guaranteed refugees' children access to state and municipal schools on par with residents, but regional authorities sometimes denied access to asylum seekers lacking residential registration. In some Moscow schools, preparatory Russian classes were established for non-Russian speaking children with the support of UNHCR. UNHCR also helped refugees with school fees and other educational expenses.

While theoretically the Constitution and law guarguaranteed refugees healthcare, it was unavailable to most for lack of residential registration. Refugees without status received emergency care only. UNHCR and NGOs gave legal and medical help to asylum seekers, but the Government monitored them vigorously and, in his State of the Union address, President Putin suggested that NGOs who helped refugees served commercial and "anti-Russian" interests.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)  Fighting in Chechnya, including the military's indiscriminate use of force, looting, widespread and systematic abductions, and use of rape as a weapon, had displaced hundreds of thousands, most of whom remained in neighboring Ingushetia. Chechen rebels also attacked civilians, used them as human shields, forced them to build fortifications, and prevented them from leaving Chechnya. They also killed ethnic Russians and any who would not help them. The Government strictly controlled media access to the region and travel was dangerous in any event. In June, following rebel attacks in Ingushetia that killed 90, the military conducted sweeps through IDP settlements, reportedly beating residents and arresting 20 whom they later released.

There were also 19,000 ethnic Ingush IDPs from Northern Ossetia-Alania in Ingushetia. In September, terrorists including ethnic Chechens and Ingush seized a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, resulting in the deaths of hundreds and making it unlikely that Ingush IDPs would return to Ossetia.

The Government forced Chechen IDPs back, restricted their flight, and pressured them to return to Chechnya by removing them from humanitarian aid lists, intermittently disconnecting utilities, and threatening eviction. Authorities also closed the last three tent camps in Ingushetia. They had housed nearly 6,000 persons, most of whom returned to Chechnya along with about 22,000 others. UNHCR estimated that about 38,800 IDPs remained in Ingushetia, 24,500 in private housing and 14,300 in camps. Russia recognized 13,000 ethnic Russians, Armenians, and Jews from Chechnya – virtually the entire populations of those groups in Chechnya – as "Forced Migrants." Chechen IDPs, however, typically could not obtain identity documents necessary for residential registration, which in turn was necessary for legal employment, property ownership, healthcare, education, and pensions.

In October, the European Commission allocated some $12.7 million (10 million Euros) to aid victims of the conflict, but no international NGOs were able to maintain offices in Chechnya. The 1995 Law on Forced Migrants provided for assistance of IDPs who acquired or already had Russian citizenship from former Soviet republics fleeing "massive violations of public order," but regional authorities declined to apply it to ethnic Chechens. The Government offered some Chechens who agreed to relocate the equivalent of $4,500 (140,000 Rubles) for lost properties. It also offered the equivalent of $13,000 (350,000 Rubles) to those who agreed to stay in Chechnya, but officials demanded between 30 and 50 percent of this in bribes to release the money.

About 7,300 citizens of former Soviet republics applied to various embassies for refuge abroad, including Chechens, Armenians from Azerbaijan, and Meskhetian Turks, but embassies often refused Chechens for their lack of documentation. UNHCR reported that police detained, deported, and fined several of them and others were victims of sometimes lethal, racially motivated assaults. Although Russia abolished the requirement of permanent residence abroad as a condition of exit, border guards continued to require a similar stamp from those wishing to leave.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants


This 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.