The Russian Federation hosts some 107,000 refugees and asylum seekers including unregistered persons in de facto need of protection. About 62,000 are from Afghanistan and either fled the mujahedin who overthrew the pro-Soviet Najibulla regime in 1992 or the Taliban thereafter. About 40,000 are from Georgia. Some had fled separatist fighting in the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions as early as 1993. About five thousand others were from Central Asia and various other countries.
The Government formally recognizes only about 2,300, including 1,500 Afghans and 700 Georgians. In addition, there were about 1,800 with asylum claims pending at the end of the year.
An unknown number of asylum seekers were forcibly returned at air and land entry points where neither the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) nor nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) had regular access. There was, however, only one reported case of forcible return of a registered refugee or asylum seeker.
Some 5,800 applied to the Government during the year, including 2,900 Georgians, and 2,200 Afghans. The Government granted refugee status to about 350 persons, including 261 Afghans, 46 Georgians, and 10 Uzbeks. It granted temporary asylum to about 480.
There were 105 reported cases of police abuse of persons of concern, almost 30 percent fewer than the year before. In 88 of the cases, the victims held applicant certificates but lacked residential registration. The Civic Assistance Committee registered over 135 cases of detention of asylum seekers in Moscow as of September.
Moscow authorities issued applicants documentation valid for three months within five to 10 days.
In January, the Office of UNHCR ceased making refugee status determinations as the Government began providing generally unimpeded access to its own process. The Government even agreed to reconsider the UNHCR mandate refugees to whom it had previously denied asylum although a letter of support from an NGO and/or UNHCR was still sometimes necessary. In addition, most decisions remained negative and authorities warned some not to apply by saying they would deport them immediately upon rejection.
In February, the Ministry of Justice registered and, in March and April, the Federal Migration Service (FMS) began applying the Administrative Regulation Governing the Implementation of the Legislation on Political Asylum and the Administrative Regulation Governing the Implementation of the Legislation on Refugee Status, respectively.
In March, authorities detained an Uzbek man for alleged involvement with Wahhabism. The lawyer for the detainee could not establish his location for eight days and initially found no official documents substantiating the detention. The detainee filed an illegal detention complaint that disappeared in transit.
In April, the Supreme Court upheld the Government's dissolution of the refugee aid group, Sodeistvie, in Vladimir for failure to submit reports on its pre-2007 activities.
Also in April, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russian authorities should not extradite an Uzbek national they had arrested at the request of Uzbekistan in 2007 until further notice.
In June, FMS reduced the annual quota of legal migrant workers from six million in 2007 to two million in 2008.
In October, authorities forcibly returned to Sri Lanka an asylum applicant that UNHCR had registered and who had also submitted an application to FMS while in detention.
In December, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered authorities not to repatriate 13 Uzbeks and to pay them euros 15,000 ($19,191) in restitution. Russian authorities had arrested them at the request of the Government of Uzbekistan, rejected their asylum applications, and attempted to extradite them. After two years in detention, they had won release and Sweden offered them refugee status but authorities refused to allow them to leave without Uzbekistan's permission.
Law and Policy
Border guards and Aeroflot airlines often deny individuals who seek asylum access to FMS and deport them, sometimes to countries where they fear persecution. The Government fines airlines if it has to admit such passengers to the country. Even when NGOs know that an asylum seeker is at the border and inform the FMS, the latter cannot intervene without the border guards' notification. The 1997 Law on Refugees allows five days for admissibility review, during which time authorities hold asylum seekers in transit zones or other facilities but, since applicants rarely get access to FMS, there is no such review and the authorities deport them. Although able to provide counsel in some regions, NGOs did not have access to the airports.
Unless UNHCR is aware of a case and intervenes directly, temporary asylum is generally not available from the airports by law as it requires beneficiaries to apply from the national territory and FMS does not consider this to include the transit zone.
The Russian Federation is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol without reservation. The 1993 Constitution provides for "political asylum ... in conformity with the commonly recognized norms of the international law." The 1997 Law on Refugees prohibits the forced return of asylum applicants, refugees, and persons granted temporary asylum.
The 1997 Decree on Political Asylum provides a stringent procedure for granting asylum to political figures targeted for persecution. Few apply for it and even fewer receive it.
The 1997 Law on Refugees outlines a procedure for granting refugee status using the definition of the 1951 Convention. FMS receives and decides claims. Refugee status lasts for three years and is annually renewable thereafter, subject to annual reexamination of the merits of the claim. The Government applies a "safe third country" rule, a 24-hour deadline for applications, and a narrow interpretation of the refugee definition. A 2002 FMS instruction concludes that, because CIS countries were becoming more stable and had legislation prohibiting persecution, most persons from the region are economic migrants.
The 1997 Law on Refugees also provides for granting temporary asylum to persons whom the Government cannot deport for humanitarian reasons. Renewal is subject to a reexamination of the merits of the claim. 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 or with serious health conditions can benefit. The 2001 Resolution on Temporary Asylum defines the procedure.
Russia is party to the 1957 European Convention on Extradition, which prohibits extradition for "political crimes." It is also party, however, to the Minsk Convention, which allows no such exception. The latter does, however, require detention, which the Code of Criminal Procedure governs and which does have a provision exempting persons already granted asylum from extradition. Sometimes authorities simply ignore the law in the cases of requesting parties such as Uzbekistan and North Korea, which have strong ties with Russia. Special services of these countries operate freely in Russia and participate in the detention of their citizens for extradition.
UNHCR no longer conducts refugee status determination under its own mandate but still registers and reviews cases the authorities deny in the first instance to assess whether authorities have duly adjudicated them and, if in need of international protection, to help them appeal.
Detention/Access to Courts
Courts or local prosecutors' offices review cases of detention for deportation or administrative expulsion but, without documentation, they generally authorize the detention or its extension. The 2002 Code of Administrative Offenses and the Law on Foreigners provide for the indefinite detention of foreigners for the purposes of expulsion and deportation, respectively. The Constitutional Court, however, reasons from analogy to the Code of Criminal Procedure, that the Government should release persons it cannot expel after one year. Authorities sometimes inform UNHCR of asylum applicants they detain for expulsion for lack of documents.
Under international agreements and informal arrangements with states in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), the Government detains persons with outstanding warrants in the FSU for up to a month while prosecutors investigate them, including opposition figures for whom no other legal grounds for detention exists. According to a 2007 ECHR case, such detention violates the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms provisions against arbitrary detention and assurance of due process.
Authorities subject persons from Africa, the Caucasus, or Central Asia, including refugees, to a pattern of police beatings, far more frequent document checks, forcible entrances, searches, detention, excessive fines, extortion, and arbitrary refusal of residential registration stamps.
The 1993 Constitution provides that "no person may be detained for more than 48 hours without" a court order.
The 1997 Law on Refugees authorizes 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.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
The Government restricts freedom of movement and residence by requiring foreigners to possess migration while traveling and to register with local authorities within three days of arrival at new locations. Authorities can fine foreigners and stateless persons, including asylum seekers, without registration from 2,000 to 5,000 rubles (about $75-190) or expel them.
The 2006 law "On migration (registration) of foreign citizens and stateless persons in the Russian Federation" requires foreigners to notify the authorities of their presence in person or by mail within three days of arrival. Law enforcement officials ask to see passports, the migration cards foreigners received upon entry, and stamped application forms.
The 1993 Constitution offers freedom of movement to everyone legally in the territory. The law does not expressly restrict the movement of persons with pending refugee status or certificates of asylum claims, but only a few hundred persons have this status. The 1997 Law on Refugees obliges refugees and temporary asylees to inform the respective migration service of any change in their residence within seven days.
The law also requires 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. Recognized refugees can apply to FMS for a two-year renewable international travel documents allowing departure and return. Temporary asylees must apply in writing to FMS for their passports stating the reason and must obtain exit and entry visas as well.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
While the 1997 Law on Refugees allows refugees and asylum applicants with documentation and residential registration to accept wage labor on par with nationals without work permits and to run business enterprises, most lack such documentation. The 2002 Code of Administrative Offenses provides for expulsion for illegal employment and the 2002 Law on Foreigners requires persons who need visas also to have permits to work.
The 2006 law "On the legal situation of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation," provides that FMS or the regional migration services issue work permits 10 days after an applicant's submission of identity documents, migration cards with stamps from border guards or migration offices, and 1,000 rubles (about $30) without requiring employer sponsorship. The number of legal foreign workers is limited to 1.8 million and they cannot sell alcoholic beverages or pharmaceuticals or operate kiosks or open-air markets. These provisions do not apply to persons with residence permits or to recognized refugees, but migration authorities are often unaware of these exceptions and enforce them against such persons anyway, especially Afghans with temporary asylum.
It can take weeks for migrants to get the permits from FMS (although, according to the Government, they can also register at hundreds of post offices) and fines for employing illegal workers are up to 800,000 rubles (about $32,700). Employers are also liable for the costs of deporting illegal workers.
The 1997 Law on Refugees implicitly recognizes the rights of refugees to own residential property in that it provides for their expulsion from public housing if they do. The Land Code provides that foreigners can own land, but not in specific border territories the president designates. Under the 2002 Law on Foreigners, asylum seekers with legal status can acquire housing and land on par with other foreigners.
Public Relief and Education
Under the 1997 Law on Refugees, recognized refugees have rights to medical services, education, vocational training, and social security on par with nationals. Authorities deny services to those without proper registration, however, and UNHCR and NGOs must provide non-emergency medical assistance.
The 1993 Constitution guarantees free education to all from pre-school to college. The 1997 Law on Refugees guarantees refugee children access to state and municipal schools on par with nationals. A 2002 Decree by Moscow area authorities requires only indication of their place of residence for access to primary education.
While the 1993 Constitution provides a universal "right to health care and medical assistance," it also limits its mandate upon the Government to provide free medical aid to citizens. The law guarantees refugees access to health services, but those lacking residential registration cannot participate in the insurance plan and have access to emergency care only.