Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Moscow Says It Will Improve Its Approach to People without Citizenship But Experts have Their Doubts

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 16 – The Russian authorities have accepted many of the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council on how to deal with persons without citizenship, a group Moscow has mistreated in the past. The UN is pleased with how far Russia is going, but experts say that there is still a long way for it to go to meet international standards.

            There are currently some 100,000 people without any citizenship in the Russian Federation, Yekaterina Trifonova of Nezavisimaya gazeta reports. They are effectively “outside the law,” cannot officially work or get medical insurance, but can be put and kept in detention centers which are like prisons (ng.ru/politics/2018-10-15/3_7332_russia.html).

                Their marginal status is a function of Russian law, and Moscow’s failure to ratify the 1997 European Convention governing the status of persons without citizenship. Russian officials say they will seek ratification as well as limit the length of time people can be held and provide more opportunities for employment and medical care as well as a shorter path to citizenship.

            “The main reason for the presence of persons without citizenship in Russia, UN experts say, is the disintegration of the USSR.” Many from now independent countries do not have the necessary documentation or qualify for citizenship anywhere, including their places of birth or the Russian Federation.

            Russian officials view their lack of documentation as “a crude violation of migration law” and imprison or seek to expel those they catch.  The UN says that “’thousands of persons without citizenship in the Russian Federation are now held under guard in camps for expulsion under conditions with any possibility of the review of their cases.”

                European institutions, including the European Human Rights Court, have frequently pointed to “the ‘inhuman’ conditions in these camps,” Trifonova says. Such people are kept in crowded conditions, fed poorly and often subjected to violence by guards.  The central Russian government reportedly has tried to improve things, but regional officials generally have not.

            Various international accords “prohibit the persecution of anyone without citizenship … even if the individual has violated immigration rules.  But in these cases,” the journalist continues, “our immigration serves either do not carry out a proceed for establishing the individual’s status or prolong the procedure indefinitely.”

            As a result, persons without citizenship are often put in an impossible position in Russia. Officials require them to prove that they are not citizens of any other country in order to begin the naturalization process but because of the restrictions on them, they often cannot obtain such documentation and thus are trapped.

            Roza Magomedova, a Russian immigration attorney, is skeptical that any of this is about to change. According to her, Moscow has made “wordy promises” but has not taken “any real steps” to address the underlying problems.  She points with particular concern to the fact that judges ignore a Constitutional Court order not to deport such people without due process.

            And what is especially disturbing, Magomedova continues, is that “over the last six months conditions in detentions centers have become significantly worse. There is no place for many to sleep, prepare food or exercise.” Medical care is limited, and the inmates say that their conditions are far worse that in preliminary detention centers for ordinary law breakers.

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