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Russia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. With the exception of refugees from Ukraine, who as a group were well received, the government provided minimal assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs stated that police at times detained, fined, and threatened migrants, refugees, and stateless persons with deportation and that citizens subjected them to racially motivated assaults.

The government seldom cooperated on asylum and refugee problems with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations.

In-country Movement: Although the law gives citizens the right to choose their place of residence, adult citizens must carry government-issued internal passports while traveling domestically and must register with local authorities after arriving at a new location. Persons with official refugee or asylum status must request permission to relocate to a district other than the one that originally granted them status. Authorities often refused to provide government services to individuals without internal passports or proper registration, and many regional governments continued to restrict this right through residential registration rules that closely resembled Soviet-era regulations.

Authorities required intercity travelers to show their internal passports when buying tickets to travel via air, long-distance railroad, water, or road. Commuter travel on road, water, or via railroad did not require identification. Authorities imposed travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes. In August authorities charged Leonid Volkov, the head of the Democratic Opposition’s election movement in Novosibirsk, with obstructing the work of a journalist. Authorities reportedly restricted his freedom to travel while they investigated the case.

Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom to travel abroad, but the government introduced new restrictions on this right during the year, including an amendment that allows for the temporary restriction of citizens’ rights to exit the country if they are bankrupt.

The law on procedures for departing from and entering the country stipulates that a person who violates a court decision has no right to leave the country. A court may prohibit a person from leaving the country for failure to satisfy debts, if the individual is suspected, accused, or convicted of a crime, or if the individual has access to classified material. Authorities imposed travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.

According to press reports, in 2014 the government restricted foreign travel by approximately five million government employees, mostly from the security services. This included employees of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Prison Service, the Federal Drug Control Service, the Federal Bailiff Service, the Federal Migration Service (FMS, now GAMI, see next paragraph), and the Ministry of Emergency Situations. Freedom House reported that often employees who were not themselves prohibited from travel felt obliged not to go abroad to be consistent with colleagues. The law requires citizens to disclose any dual citizenship.

On April 5, the FMS was abolished, and President Putin announced the Ministry of Internal Affairs would take over all FMS duties. The move was part of the larger restructuring of the ministry, which included the creation of the new Russian Federal National Guard Service (see section 1.d, Role of the Police and Security Apparatus). The new entity carrying out the FMS’s previous duties is the General Administration for Migration Issues (GAMI). The transfer of responsibility was underway during the year, although officially the FMS ceased operations in April.

Exile: There were many high-profile cases of self-imposed exile during the year, primarily involving leaders of political opposition movements, NGOs, environmental organizations, and protesters who feared reprisals for their participation in anti-Putin demonstrations or for their opposition activities.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

In December 2014 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that Russia was home to at least 27,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), most of whom remained in the North Caucasus as a result of the Chechen conflict. The situation for the IDPs displaced after the conflict in Chechnya remained poor, with the majority still living in substandard accommodations without proper sanitation and electricity. The government’s official statistics showed the number IDPs decreased from 28,292 in 2015 to 25,359 during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. NGOs reported applicants commonly paid informal “facilitation fees” of approximately 33,000 rubles ($500) to GAMI/the FMS adjudicators to have their application reviewed. Applicants who did not speak Russian had to pay for a private interpreter. Human rights organizations noted that nearly all newly arrived refugees and temporary asylum seekers in large cities, in particular Moscow and St. Petersburg, were forced to apply in other regions, allegedly due to full quotas. With the exception of Ukrainians, GAMI/the FMS approved a small percentage of applications for refugee status and temporary asylum.

Some observers pointed out that GAMI/the FMS data failed to include asylum seekers who were forcibly deported or extradited before exhausting their legal remedies. Some asylum seekers, especially those from Central Asia, also reportedly chose not to make formal applications for asylum because doing so often led to criminal investigations and other unwanted attention from the security services.

Human rights organizations criticized the country’s reported preferential treatment of Ukrainian applicants for refugee status and temporary asylum. According to UNHCR and local NGOs, authorities had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Ukrainians and prioritized Ukrainian nationals over other nationalities, especially those from African nations. As of November 2015, the vast majority of Ukrainian nationals who applied for temporary asylum received this status on a one-year basis and were eligible to apply twice for renewals. This prioritization resulted in longer waiting periods and drastically fewer approvals for non-Ukrainian applicants. As of November 2015, authorities reportedly also had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Syrians. According to local NGOs, GAMI/the FMS stopped granting them temporary asylum and refugee status. Local migration experts noted a decrease in the number of Syrians with temporary asylum, indicating that GAMI/the FMS did not renew the temporary asylum of hundreds of Syrians. Authorities did not release up-to-date data on non-Ukrainian refugees during the year. According to official statistics, there were 311,134 Ukrainian citizens holding temporary asylum; in contrast, 1,302 Syrians held the same status.

According to official statistics, 770 persons were granted refugee status during the year, down from 790 in 2015 but more than the 632 reported in 2014.

According to a Sky News report from May, only two Syrians received full asylum status since the conflict there began in 2011. The country’s official statistics indicated that two Syrians per year were granted refugee status since 2013. The Sky News report stated that five Syrian asylum seekers in Makhachkala, Dagestan, who had been behind bars for over a year, remained incarcerated indefinitely due to a lack of proper paperwork related to their asylum claims. Human rights groups believed numerous Syrians sat in similar circumstances throughout the country.

In the fall of 2015, approximately 5,500 migrants and asylum seekers crossed Russia’s border with Norway by utilizing a loophole that allowed border crossing via bicycle without documentation check by Russian border guards. When Norway began returning the migrants to Russia, HRW noted “a lack of assurance from the Russian authorities that they would provide those sent back with any hearing of their asylum claims, much less a fair consideration of their applications.” According to HRW, UNHCR and Norway’s country-of-origin office noted deficiencies in Russia’s asylum system that could prevent the fair and effective assessment of a person’s refugee claims.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The responsible agency, GAMI/the FMS, did not maintain a presence at airports or other border points and did not adequately publicize that asylum seekers had the ability to request access to the agency. Asylum seekers had to rely on the goodwill of border guards and airline personnel to call immigration officials. Otherwise, they faced immediate return to their countries of origin, including in some cases to countries where they may have had reasonable grounds to fear persecution.

A Sky News report stated that Russian officials had tried to deport five detained asylum seekers directly back to Syria, but their attorney succeeded in blocking the deportation while they were waiting to board a plane at a Moscow airport. According to UNHCR and other human rights monitors, at least 18 Syrians have been directly returned to Syria, contravening the country’s constitution.

By law an applicant may appeal the decision of a GAMI/the FMS official to a higher-ranking authority or to a court. During the appeal process, the applicant is legally entitled to the rights of a person whose application for refugee status was being considered.

Human rights groups continued to allege that authorities made improper use of international agreements that permit them to detain, and possibly repatriate, persons with outstanding arrest warrants from other former Soviet states. This system, enforced by informal ties between senior law enforcement officials of the countries concerned, permitted authorities to detain individuals for up to one month while the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated the nature of the warrants. UNHCR and human rights groups noted several cases of disappearances and extralegal return of persons of UNHCR concern, in which officials detained individuals (most commonly from Central Asia) and returned them to their country of origin clandestinely. Rights groups and UNHCR maintained that this could not have happened without the cooperation of several different federal agencies.

In July, Khursheddin Fazylov, a citizen of Tajikistan who had applied for political asylum in Russia, was returned to Tajikistan before his application and appeals process had been completed. The government of Tajikistan accused him of recruiting Tajik citizens to go to Syria through Turkey to take part in jihad and requested his extradition. According to his lawyer, Fazylov was transported out of the country to Tajikistan on the day his detention period would have expired. At the time, his asylum case was still under appeal. Fazylov’s family reported that, within a week of that date, he was back in Tajikistan in prison.

In July the government returned Olim Ochilov, a 27-year-old citizen of Uzbekistan, to his home country, where he allegedly faced the threat of torture. The deportation took place even though the ECHR had ruled that Russia should grant Ochilov temporary asylum. The government of Uzbekistan accused Ochilov of “antistate activities.” His location in Uzbekistan was unknown.

Access to Basic Services: By law successful temporary asylum seekers and persons whose applications were being processed have the right to work, receive medical care, and attend school. NGOs reported authorities provided some services to Ukrainian asylum seekers, but applicants from other countries were routinely denied them. During the year authorities closed the majority of government-funded temporary accommodation centers specially erected for Ukrainian nationals waiting to receive temporary asylum. These centers provided shelter, food, medical care, and job-placement assistance. As of November 2015, some 16,112 Ukrainian nationals remained in these centers throughout the country, although NGOs reported that many inhabitants were Ukrainians with legal status who were paying to live in the facilities. Non-Ukrainian asylum applicants did not have access to these benefits.

While federal law provides for education for all children, regional authorities occasionally denied access to schools to children of temporary asylum and refugee applicants who lacked residential registration. When parents encountered difficulties enrolling their children in school, authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR to resolve the problem. Authorities frequently denied applicants the right to work if they lacked residential registration, which was common due to landlords’ preference not to register occupants for tax reasons.

Temporary Protection: A person who did not satisfy the criteria for refugee status, but who could not be expelled or deported for humanitarian reasons could receive temporary asylum after submitting a separate application. There were reports, however, of authorities not upholding the principle of temporary protection.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR estimated there were approximately 113,470 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2014. Official statistics did not differentiate between stateless person and other categories of persons seeking assistance. UNHCR reported a significant number of Afghans resided in Russia for more than 20 years, including some orphans brought back by Soviet armed forces. The majority of these individuals and their offspring did not have legal status in the country because GAMI/the FMS repeatedly rejected their applications for temporary asylum or refugee status. This Afghan population faced the same risks as newly arrived asylum seekers, including denial of, or lack of, access to medical care, schooling, and housing.

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