Sunday, January 3, 2016

Holders of Soviet Passports Truly People without a Country

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 3 – Because Russian law does not recognize stateless persons as a specific category, those who do not have a Russian Federation, including those who do have a Soviet passport but came from another former Soviet republic, cannot register with the Russian authorities, go to school, or get a pension.

            As a result, they – and no one knows how many of them there are, although in Krasnodar oblast alone there are more than 1,000 -- live in a legal limbo, one in which they are not treated as anything but foreigners in the Russian Federation today. Their situation, rights activists say, could be resolved “only in the USSR but such a country is no longer on the map.”

            In an article for “Kavkazskaya politika,” journalist Andrey Koshik says that there are no official statistics about such people and that reflects a broader problem: they are invisible as far as the state is concerned and thus “deprived of all social rights,” including pensions, education, and medical services (

            In some cases, these people have lost their Soviet passports one way or another but not acquired any other. In others, they retain those documents but because they were issued in what are now independent countries, Russian officials do not accept them, even though Russian law specifies that they should. As a result, there are many human tragedies.

            Semyon Simonov, the president of the Southern Human Rights center and earlier the head of the Migration and Law organization in Sochi, says that these “people without citizenship” routinely appeal to various Russian government offices for help but “their problems are really resolved only in a few cases.”

            The Federal Migration Service refuses to accept the evidence of residence from other Russian agencies, and that means that if an individual has no documents because he has lost his Soviet passport or because it was issued somewhere else, to establish his legal status is extremely complicated.

            Under Russian law, Simonov points out, “only the FMS can do this,” and there is a mechanism in the legal code allowing it: “Until the end of 2016, there is a simplified procedure for obtaining citizenship by people who have lived in Russia since 2002 if they have not become citizens of other independent republics.”

            “But the FMS doesn’t want to solve their problems,” and so they continue to struggle. “If Russian laws actually worked, the problems of these people would be solved.” But the laws don’t, and their problems continue with the December 2016 deadline rapidly approaching, the rights activist says.

            “Dozens of people without citizenship report that there are people around the offices of the migration service who offer for money to resolve citizenship issues. Simonov reports that one of those seeking citizenship was told he could have it if he paid 300,000 rubles (4200 US dollars), an enormous sum for most.

            Most of those without citizenship in Krasnodar Kray, he continues, arrived there during or immediately after military conflicts elsewhere in the Caucasus or more rarely from the former Kazakhstan SSR or Ukraine.  At present, 714 of them are being held in penal institutions, including 42 who “have the passport of a USSR citizen.”

            The Sochi Olympiad made their situation worse, he says. “The majority of persons without citizenship in the winter of 2013-2014 before the Olympiad were detained and put in special holding cells for illegal migrants where they spent from several months to a year and a half.”

            “Unfortunately” – and this is the key fact, Simonov says – “Russian law does not recognize them as a separate category: If one doesn’t have a Russian passport, that means you are a foreigner,” with all the restrictions and none of the rights that implies.

            Those who were detained by the Russian authorities sought to make contact with the embassies of the countries on whose territories they had been born, “but if an individual was never a citizen of independent Georgia or Azerbaijan, the embassies refused to receive” their documents and correspondence in many cases dragged on without any resolution.

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