Turning on oneself

American society has finally paid attention to the cruel treatment of migrant children separated from their parents at the border with Mexico: children there are kept in isolated premises behind metal nets and they are not given legal assistance. US Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen justified such measures by the fact that “by law” the parents of these children were criminal offenders, and the law must be observed. When asked about the image of the country, which this produced, the secretary answered: “The image that I want of this country is an immigration system that secures our borders and upholds our humanitarian ideals”.

Human rights organizations, numerous politicians and journalists saw in this situation on the border with Mexico some unpleasant similarities to the Second World War period, namely the Nazi concentration camps and the US camps for interned Japanese, in which children were also separated from their parents. Protests in the USA, including statements made by the first lady of the nation, led to President Trump cancelling his decree which had authorized the practice of separation of children from their parents, although the criminal persecution of migrants who try to illegally enter the country continues.

Similarities with Nazi Germany could be found not only in the routine work of the US immigration services, but also, for example, in the new legislation recently adopted in Hungary. The new laws have criminalized assistance to “illegal” migrants and refugees, which became a matter of great concern for the non-governmental organizations that helped migrants to apply for asylum. Right-wing politicians, who are currently in power in Hungary, justified such measures by the fact that the country should not “turn into a nation of immigrants”.

Bu should not Russia also turn around and look at itself? Let us recall the practice of separation of children from migrant parents if the latter were recognized as violators of the immigration regime, a policy which had been adopted in Russia. Adults are being placed in temporary detention centers for foreign nationals, and children are sent to special institutions. Children and parents are being deported from Russia separately, not together. This happens everywhere, and only such outrageous cases as the death of baby Umarali Nazarov, who had been taken away from his mother during an anti-migrant raid in St. Petersburg, caused public outcry. But no one took responsibility for the death of the child, neither the juvenile inspector, who had made the record about the allegedly “orphan” child in the presence of his mother, nor the doctors at the children’s hospital, who had admitted the boy at the hospital and had found him healthy, while a few hours later the infant died of supposed “viral infection”. The criminal case was terminated “due to absence of a criminal act”, because no “abuse or exceeding of official powers was found in the actions of the employees of the Federal Migration Service and the police”. Tragedy of the baby’s young mother Zarina, who was quickly expelled from Russia together with a small wooden box (or “cargo 200”, as they call in a military fashion the dead bodies of immigrants transported to the countries of their origin), could not be seen behind the official formulations (“died from exhaustion of the immune system”, “there were no deficiencies in provision of medical care to the child”, “no abuses have been identified”, “facts of actions that could have caused the death of the child through imprudence have not been established”…)

The decision on expulsion of young Zarina to Tajikistan, although she had been hersef the claimant in this case, was made by judge Irina Kerro, the same person, who had been invoved in a conflict with the former court clerk Alexander Eivazov, who is on trial now. Eivazov had spoken out and made complaints to various official bodies, in which he disclosed blatant violations in the Oktyabrsky district court of St. Petersburg, but it is him who faces up to four years in prison for that now.

There are also cases when migrant children are being detained for “incorrect” documents and are placed not in hospitals, but in institutions for juvenile offenders. In one of such cases the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” defended in 2014 the rights of the Musayev brothers, Tajik minors aged 9, 13 and 15, who had been detained by the St. Petersburg police on the street and sent to the Center for temporary isolation of juvenile offenders, where they were detained for two days and nights before the trial (without their parents and together with juvenile offenders), which in fact equals being kept in prison conditions. Their mother, who was a victim of the same mistake in the dates of registration, was herself detained while trying to rescue her children from the detention center. Let us note that violation of immigration regulations in the Russian Federation is not a criminal offense, but an administrative one, and children under 16 can not be brought to administrative responsibility at all.

But even older minors, who are formally subject to administrative responsibility (those aged 16 to 18) can not be placed in such institutions, although de facto this often happens. For example, back in 2012, Didor N., a 17-year-old Tajik citizen, was detained by police officers of the Krasnoselsky district of St. Petersburg on the basis of late registration, he was then identified without proper consideration by the court and placed into the Central Clinical Hospital, where he spent eight days, three of them in solitary confinement (due to quarantine). The cell only featured three beds and no other furniture; the window was covered with bars and boarded up. Bed linen, mattresses and blankets were in poor condition. The light in the cell was on until 9 p.m., and only the guards outside could turn it on and off. Drinking water in the cell was not available. The lavatory was available only in a different room, same as a toilet, and only cold water was provided. Inmates could go to the toilet only by calling a security guard. Relatives were not allowed to see Didor, he was told that they had no right for visits, and for three days the boy was kept in complete informational isolation. During the whole period of his detention there he was taken for a walk only once, for just 15 minutes.

Declaring migrant children as the ones “left without parental care”, although the parents are there; separation of children and parents; persecution of people who flee from war, crime, ethnic cleansing, hunger, poverty and unemployment and justifying all this by the policy of “zero tolerance for illegal migrants” has become a worldwide phenomenon. Migrants and refugees, children and adults need public protection in many countries. But still we can rejoice because in spite of the background of intensified anti-immigrant policies, the rise of ultra-right-wing ideology and the general conservative tide, the US establishment was still forced by the American society to prohibit separation of migrant families, which makes the situation of migrant children slightly better.

Olga Abramenko, expert of the Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial”, Ph. D.

Originally published on the blog of Radio Liberty