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Russia: Immigration Detainees Amongst Foreign Migrants Targeted for Military Recruitment

Pedestrians walk past a mobile recruitment point in St Petersburg, May 2023 (Source:

In an effort to reach recruitment targets for its war in Ukraine, Russia has been attempting to coerce or force foreign migrants to fight. Authorities and private military companies have attempted to enlist foreigners in migration offices, workplaces, prisons, worker dormitories, and mosques. According to several reports, immigration detainees have also been targeted for enlistment. 

Amidst heavy casualties and significant numbers of Russian men fleeing the country to avoid mobilisation, numerous reports have emerged detailing Russia’s efforts to bolster its frontline troops. In September 2022, for example, the Duma approved a bill offering a simplified and expedited route to Russian citizenship in exchange for at least one year of military service.

Foreign migrant workers without Russian citizenship have been caught up in the frantic mobilisation effort, with many having received military summons in alleged violation of Russian legislation (Article 15 of the Federal Law “On the legal status of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation” provides that foreign citizens cannot be called up for military service). According to the UK’s Ministry of Defence, Russian authorities are targeting foreign migrants “to delay any new overt mandatory mobilisation for as long as possible to minimise domestic dissent.” 

The Wagner Group actively recruited men from Russian prisons–including foreign prisoners. According to the human rights group ADC Memorial, “promises of release and financial rewards were used, as well as torture, to coerce individuals into joining.” Tajik, Uzbek, and Kygyz prisoners have numbered amongst those recruited–and amongst those killed.

Although recruitment has mainly targeted large populations confined in prisons, several reports from 2022 alleged that the Wagner Group sought to enlist immigration detainees, promising them Russian citizenship in exchange for fighting. More recently, in April 2023, Radio Free Europe (RFERL) reported that a military recruitment officer had attempted to persuade immigration detainees in Vladivostok to enlist. According to a Tajik detainee in the centre, the officer said: “You are being deported and can’t return to Russia for at least five years, but if you agree to join the Russian military your records will be wiped clean, you’ll get a good wage, and become Russian citizens after just six months.” 

The GDP is deeply concerned to learn of these reports. Efforts to recruit non-nationals have both ethical and legal implications, not least because the legislation of many countries in the region provides that military involvement in Ukraine would be considered a mercenary activity, and therefore liable for criminal punishment. Uzbekistan, for example, informed its citizens that they would face up to 10 years in prison if they joined Russian forces in Ukraine. 

The Detention of Ukrainians

Russian authorities conducted mass detentions of Ukrainians during February – May 2022. According to the Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights group that was shuttered in early 2023 as part of Russia’s crackdown on independent civil society groups, the country’s migration, security, and intelligence services placed Ukrainian residents under harsh scrutiny in the wake of Russia’s invasion of the country, with many being detained under administrative migration legislation and placed in immigration detention centres, known as Centres for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals (CTDFN). Many have been detained indefinitely 

The situation was eased in August 2022, when authorities passed Decree No. 585 “On temporary measures to regulate the legal status of citizens of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Lugansk People’s Republic and Ukraine in the Russian Federation.” In particular, this decree simplified the procedure for releasing from CTDFNs Ukrainians slated for expulsion. However, the decree did not help Ukrainians detained awaiting deportation following the completion of criminal sentences, and who are automatically recognised as “undesirable.” Instead, unable to leave Russia, such detainees have received new prison sentences and face up to two years in CTDFNs. This was highlighted by ADC Memorial in a submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. 

In Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, significant numbers of Ukrainians have been arbitrarily detained in “filtration” camps–ad hoc centres largely set up in public buildings. Here they are photographed, interrogated, have their fingerprints taken, and have their personal belongings inspected. Ukrainians report being held in these facilities for anything from a few hours to a month, and that Russians torture and abuse their detainees–including with beatings and electric shocks. Once they complete the “filtration” process, they are either released in Russian-occupied areas, or deported into remote parts of Russia. 

According to Amnesty International, those who have no relatives in Russia and cannot afford their own accommodation are sent to government-run Temporary Accommodation Points (TAPs). Located in children’s camps, sports complexes, schools, and other such public buildings, these facilities have been established across the country. According to a Ukrainian who was held in a TAP in Nizhny Novgorod, the facility management would only allow four people to go outside at once. The GDP, however, has been unable to confirm the extent of restrictions in TAPs elsewhere in the country. 

Central Asia Conflict Zone Migrant Workers Russian Federation Ukraine Ukraine Invasion