22 February 2021
In December 2020, the Russian government issued a presidential decree extending several COVID-19-related measures affecting foreigners in the country. Measures, which were extended until 15 June 2021, include the suspension of forced expulsions and deportations, as well as the suspension of cancellations of refugee status, visas, work permits, residence permits, and other documents. Certain people are exempt from these measures, including those who disturb public order and security (including people who participate in non-sanctioned rallies and meetings, and those who support extremist activities). Reports suggest that “public danger” and extremism can be broadly interpreted in Russia, leaving large numbers of people vulnerable to deportation despite the COVID-19 measures. In mid-February 2021, 118 people were being held in the Saint Petersburg Detention Centre, awaiting removal.
After 90 days from the date of this decree, the above-mentioned suspensions will also not apply to people from states that, as of 15 December, have reopened traffic links with Russia. As a result, observers predict an increase in expulsions from 15 March onwards.
Russia has reportedly used immigration detention centres to confine people who are not migrants or asylum seekers - including Russian citizens protesting the treatment of Alexei Navalny. With so many protesters in custody, authorities could not find sufficient places within Moscow prisons. Thus, many were placed in immigration detention centres (Centers for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals). At least two facilities appear to have been used for this purpose: the Sakharovo Centre (southern Moscow suburbs), and the facility in Yegoryevsk (to the south-east of Moscow).
Footage from inside the Sakharovo facility, coupled with recent detainee testimonies, have renewed concerns about conditions inside Russia's immigration detention system and have prompted debates regarding migrants rights in the country. One detainee, the editor-in-chief of the independent news outlet Mediazona, described conditions in the centre as “hellish.”
Detainees were confined in rooms with iron beds but no mattresses; there were complaints about inadequate food provisions and drinking water; rooms appeared to be dirty and rarely cleaned; and cells were reportedly excessively hot in the day and cold at night.
A particularly contentious issue were sanitary facilities, with detainees forced to use squat toilets separated from their living area by a small, waist-high wall. Campaigners have for many years called on Russian authorities to remove squat toilets from detention facilities and ensure proper privacy is provided, and while most Moscow remand facilities are now equipped with adequate toilet stalls, updates to toilets do not appear to have been made in migrant facilities.
After detainees protested the poor detention conditions--and at least one detainee reportedly went on a hunger strike--conditions have reportedly improved, with detainees provided with mattresses, improved food supplies, and some hygiene items. Discussing the conditions in the centres, Sergey Abashin (Professor of Anthropology at the European University at Saint Petersburg) argued that many of the practices first used on migrants are soon often carried over to Russian citizens. “It's all very simple: there can be no human rights and the rule of law of even a single group is taken out, first with common consent, outside of these rights and laws, sooner or later these exceptions are extended to everyone else.”
- President of the Russian Federation, “Decree of the President of the Russian Federation of December 15, 2020 No. 791 "On the extension of temporary measures to resolve the legal status of foreign citizens and stateless persons in the Russian Federation in connection with the threat of the further spread of the new coronavirus infection (COVID-19)," 15 December 2021, http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202012170001
- Kommersant, “Москвичей приравняли к депортированным иностранцам,” 3 February 2021, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4672754#id2008762
- M. Litvinovich, “Human Rights Monitors Report Protest at Special Detention Center Where Navalny Supporters are Being Held,” Meduza, 5 February 2021, https://meduza.io/en/news/2021/02/05/human-rights-monitors-report-protest-at-special-detention-center-where-navalny-supporters-are-being-held
- Meduza, “Nothing Special About It: Take a Look Inside the ‘Special’ Detention Centre Where Arrested Pro-Navalny Protesters are Being Held,” 4 February 2021, https://meduza.io/en/feature/2021/02/04/nothing-special-about-it
- A. Roth, “Russian Pro-Navalny Detainees and Relatives Denounce Jail Conditions,” The Guardian, 4 February 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/04/russian-pro-navalny-detainees-and-relatives-denounce-jail-conditions
- Meduza, “Why are the Toilets in Russian Jails Such Shit?” 11 February 2021, https://meduza.io/en/feature/2021/02/11/why-are-the-toilets-in-russian-jails-such-shit
- V. Ratnikova, “Забросили в камеру прямо в наручниках за спиной»: что изменилось в Сахарово за последнюю неделю,” Dozhd, 12 February 2021, https://tvrain.ru/teleshow/fishman_vechernee_shou/chto_izmenilos_v_saharovo_za_poslednjuju_nedelju-524551/
- S. Abashin, “Facebook Post,” 2 February 2021, https://www.facebook.com/sergey.abashin/posts/2138288276301800
- 28 Pro Navalny Protestors Held in a Cell Meant for 8 People in Sakhrovo Detention Centre, (Protestny MGU, "Nothing Special About It: Take a Look Inside the ‘Special’ Detention Center Where Arrested Pro-Navalny Protesters are Being Held," Meduza, 4 February 2021, https://meduza.io/en/feature/2021/02/04/nothing-special-about-it)
19 November 2020
Foreign migrant workers have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in Russia, with large numbers losing employment amidst the economic downturn. In a survey conducted by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in April-May 2020, 75 percent of surveyed migrants reported having lost their jobs or being forced into unpaid leave, while 50 percent reported that they had lost all sources of income.
Citing these statistics at a meeting in August, the Deputy Head of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev stated that high unemployment rates amongst migrant workers “creates a very fertile environment for the growth of crime potentially in this area.” Medvedev suggested that Russia implement changes to its immigration system that would make it harder for migrants to gain work permits. In particular, he proposed imitating the Kafala system (a visa-sponsorship system), which is widely used across the Gulf. “In the Arab world, there are appropriate solutions where the employer is fully responsible for the actions of a foreign citizen whom he hired to work,” he said. “This is a tough measure, but nevertheless it should probably be discussed.” Many UN experts and independent observers, however, have heavily criticized the Kafala system for leading to widespread rights abuses because it leaves migrant workers vulnerable to abuse by employers as well as to arrest, detention, and deportation.
For some Russian officials, however, Covid-related declines in the number of migrant workers (due in part to people returning to their home countries) are creating growing concerns about labour shortages. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, for example, has warned that the city’s labour market would inevitably be affected. Noting that as of October 2020 the number of foreign migrants in the city had dropped by 40 percent this year, he said, “This affects the labor market, especially those positions that are temporarily occupied, such as snow removal. This is manual labor: shovel, broom, scrap. Not all Muscovites are ready to work in such jobs.” According to Sobyanin, these jobs will be filled by residents of other Russian regions.
Despite issuing a moratorium on new detention orders in April (see 18 April update on this platform), media reports indicate that authorities have continued to raid areas where migrant workers are known to congregate. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), in the first two weeks of August authorities initiated a series of raids, round-ups, and detentions of migrant workers near the Tyoply Stan market in Moscow. Reportedly, the raids largely targeted Tajik migrant workers, in retaliation for a 1 August incident in which Tajik workers dragged a Tajik migrant from a police car following his arrest. According to HRW’s sources, “hundreds” were detained during these raids. Raids were also conducted in Saint Petersburg in October, with officers conducting house searches in districts including Kirovsky and Krasnogvardeisky.
- Human Rights Watch, “As Russia Faces an Economic Downturn, Migrant Workers are Paying the Price,” 9 September 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/09/russia-faces-economic-downturn-migrant-workers-are-paying-price
- Interfax, “Власти РФ обеспокоены преступностью среди безработных мигрантов,” 3 August 2020, https://www.interfax.ru/russia/720110
- Kommersant, “Россия может усложнить правила въезда трудовых мигрантов,” 3 August 2020, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4441825
- Tass News, “Рынок "Теплый стан" закрыт в Москве из-за спецоперации по борьбе с нелегальными мигрантами,” 11 August 2020, https://tass.ru/proisshestviya/9172709
- Moscow 24, “Собянин заявил о снижении мигрантов в Москве на 40%,” 18 October 2020, https://www.m24.ru/news/mehr-Moskvy/18102020/137511
- Телеканал “Санкт-Петербург,” “15 нелегальных мигрантов нашли во время рейда в Петербурге,” 31 October 2020, https://topspb.tv/news/2020/10/31/15-nelegalnyh-migrantov-nashli-vo-vremya-rejda-v-peterburge/
24 July 2020
Since issuing a moratorium on new detention orders on 18 April (Decree of the President of Russia No.2745) (see 18 April update), Russia has reportedly not issued any new detention orders. This was confirmed by the Civic Assistance Committee and Memorial in a GDP survey on 21 July. The organisations also noted that some foreign nationals awaiting deportation have been released – including 125 people who were released following successful petitions by the two organisations. Of the 253 cases presented by the organisations, those who were granted release were foreign nationals and stateless persons who were able to stay with Russian citizens or who owned property in the country. (Despite important legal rulings such as that of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Kim v Russia (2014), which called on Russia to take steps to protect stateless persons against detention, Russia continues to detain this vulnerable population. Once released, they are not issued documents that allow them to legally reside in Russia, leaving them vulnerable to re-detention.)
The Civic Assistance Committee and Memorial also note that deportations to countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan—both important migrant-sending countries—have been temporarily halted.
Russia has long been home to large numbers of migrant workers—with a significant proportion hailing from Central Asia. Earning considerably less than Russian citizens, many are forced to live in overcrowded dormitories, which police have locked down if just one resident contracts the virus. During the pandemic, some 40 percent are reported to have permanently lost their jobs, leaving them reliant upon NGO and embassy assistance. With flights suspended, many have been forced to wait in airports or queue outside their embassies in the hope of a charter flight back to their country of origin. According to the New York Times, prior to the pandemic more than 15 flights left each day to various cities in Uzbekistan, but as of 15 June there were only two charter flights a week and the Uzbek embassy’s waiting list included more than 80,000 names.
- Svetlana Gannushkina (Civic Assistance Committee/ Memorial), GDP Covid-19 Survey, 21 July 2020, https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe16r5vVHGhg8AmhOBHG-LzW_wTKk_nlPNt3RiVfjZzapnBsQ/viewform
- ADC Memorial, “Two More Stateless Persons Released from Detention,” 1 July 2020, https://adcmemorial.org/en/news/two-more-stateless-persons-released-from-detention-in-russia/
- Eurasianet, “Central Asian Migrants Worst Hit by Coronavirus Job Losses in Russia,” 8 July 2020, https://eurasianet.org/central-asian-migrants-worst-hit-by-coronavirus-job-losses-in-russia
- I. Nechepurenko, “For Migrants in Russia, Virus Means No Money To Live And No Way To Leave,” New York Times, 15 June 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/world/europe/russia-coronavirus-migrant-workers.html
- Uzbek Nationals Waiting Outside Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow Hoping to Buy Tickets for an Evacuation Flight, (Sergey Ponomarev, "For Migrants in Russia, Virus Means No Money to Live and No Way to Leave," New York Times, 15 June 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/world/europe/russia-coronavirus-migrant-workers.html)
18 April 2020
On 18 April, President Putin signed a decree “On Temporary Measures to Resolve the Legal Situation of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Russian Federation in Connection with the Threat of Further Spread of the new Coronavirus Infection Covid-19.” This new decree provides that the period from 15 March until 15 June 2020 will not be included in the period of temporary stay or temporary residence in Russia for foreign nationals and stateless persons, or in their registration period if it expires. This also applies to the time limit set for foreign nationals and stateless persons to leave Russia voluntarily if they are subject to administrative expulsion, deportation, or extradition. Further, no decisions will be made during this window regarding the undesirability of foreign citizens’ and stateless persons’ stay (residence), administrative expulsion, deportation or extradition to a foreign state in accordance with international readmission agreements, deprivation of refugee status, temporary asylum, work permits, and temporary residence permits. The decree also provides that during this time period, employers may hire foreign citizens and stateless persons who do not have permission to work in the country.
While authorities have ceased the detention of foreigners and stateless persons, many immigration detention facilities remain overcrowded. With no flights and no expulsions, detainees are forced to remain confined in facilities that lack appropriate health care provision and poor sanitation. As Human Rights Watch noted in a statement issued on 16 April, an estimated 8,000 people - including families with children - are effectively being held in indefinite detention. “Russian authorities should provide safe and dignified alternatives to migration detention for people facing deportation or court-mandated expulsion. They should also improve access to healthcare and ensure social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Russia’s migration detention centers.”
- President of the Russian Federation, “Указ Президента РФ от 18 апреля 2020 г. N 274 "О временных мерах по урегулированию правового положения иностранных граждан и лиц без гражданства в Российской Федерации в связи с угрозой дальнейшего распространения новой коронавирусной инфекции (COVID-19),” 18 April 2020, http://www.garant.ru/hotlaw/federal/1361959/
- Human Rights Watch, “Russia: As Pandemic Grows, Migration Detention Deadlock,” 16 April 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/16/russia-pandemic-grows-migration-detention-deadlock
02 April 2020
Russia has taken some steps to limit immigration detainee populations. At the same time, it has taken draconian measures that have severely increased the vulnerability of thousands of migrant workers and other foreigners residing in the country.
According to ADC Memorial, the government has prohibited the placement of new people in detention centres, and instead only imposes fines for violations of migration laws. It has also permitted people to prolong their documents/permission to stay in the country. In an email to the Global Detention Project, the NGO reported that there is still severe overcrowding in some facilities, including in particular the St.Petersburg detention centre, where “people sleep on the floor on mattresses or live in the corridor on beds.” They say that the facility has reportedly sought to negotiate with the court to investigate ways to possibly reduce the population.
On 29 March 2020, human rights activists called on authorities to release migrants from the country’s detention centres. The Civic Assistance Committee published a joint letter in which they urged the state to release detainees. With no available flights, those in detention face an uncertain wait, with no date in sight for their release. On 31 March, the Sverdlovsk Regional Court overturned the expulsion of an Azerbaijani citizen, and found that the individual could no longer be detained in a SUVSIG due to the inability to deport. The judge stated: “Detention for an indefinite period of time is unacceptable, as this may become a form of punishment that is not provided for by the provisions of the legislation of the Russian Federation and which is incompatible with the provisions of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.”
When international attention was first alerted to the crisis unfolding in Wuhan, Moscow authorities not only temporarily barred many categories of Chinese nationals from entering the country, but also initiated raids on homes, hotels, businesses, and public transport in an effort to track down Chinese nationals and enforce quarantine measures. Those found to be violating such measures were issued expulsion orders or fined heavily. According to one Novaya Gazeta report, authorities went so far as to make phone calls to Chinese nationals ordering them to leave quarantine in order to attend medical tests or visa appointments, only to apprehend them and issue fines. On 29 February, some 80 Chinese nationals were reported to be facing deportation for violating quarantine measures.
Hundreds or even thousands of migrant workers have been stranded in airport transit zones in airports across Russia after the country cancelled flights to many of their home countries, including in particular those from Central Asia. On 1 April, Moscow Times reported that 300 Central Asian migrants were evicted from Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport overnight, having been stranded in the airport for weeks. Reportedly, they had been provided with some basic supplies while in the airport, but after this, as one Tajik migrant explained, “we were simply kicked out on the street at night in the cold.”
- L. Zhen, “China Complains of Unfair Treatment of Chinese in Russia Amid Coronavirus Fears,” South China Morning Post, 29 February 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3053024/china-complains-unfair-treatment-chinese-russia-amid
- E. Kostyuchenko, “Жизнь на паузе,” Novaya Gazeta, 26 March 2020, https://novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/03/26/84527-zhizn-na-pauze
- The Moscow Times, “Coronavirus Border Closures Leave Migrant Workers Stranded in Moscow’s Airports,” 24 March 2020, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/03/24/coronavirus-border-closures-leave-migrant-workers-stranded-in-moscows-airports-a69733
- The Moscow Times, “Migrants Waiting for Coronavirus Flights Kicked Out of Moscow Airport,” 1 April 2020, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/03/31/migrants-waiting-for-coronavirus-flights-kicked-out-of-moscow-airport-a69809
- News.ru, “Непропущенные лица: карантинная Москва становится ловушкой для мигрантов,” 31 March 2020, https://bit.ly/349aXG0
- Коммерсантъ, “Велика Россия, а высылать некуда,” 31 March 2020, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4309633
- Civic Assistance Committee, “ИЗ ЦВСИГ НЕОБХОДИМО ОСВОБОДИТЬ МИГРАНТОВ, ВЫДВОРЕНИЕ КОТОРЫХ В УСЛОВИЯХ ПАНДЕМИИ НЕВОЗМОЖНО ОСУЩЕСТВИТЬ,” 29 March 2020, https://bit.ly/3bvnJBg A. Borodikhin, “Тюрьма без срока. Иностранцев не могут выдворить и не отпускают из центров временного содержания,” Медиазона, 2 April 2020, https://zona.media/article/2020/04/02/ZVSIG
- Global Detention Project, Immigration in the Russian Federation, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/russian-federation