Stateless persons in Russia: the vicious circle of problems cannot be broken

Stateless persons continue to be detained at Centers for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals

Imprisoning stateless persons for the purpose of deportation is a cruel and senseless practice widely used by Russian courts and law enforcement agencies. Being only a “provisional measure” for expulsion, such deprivation of liberty turns into a punishment. In 2013, the long-term detention of stateless Roman Kim in the Center for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals (CTDFN) led to proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights. At that time, the court made an important decision for stateless persons imprisoned in Detention Centers and ordered the Russian Federation to take general measures to prevent the deprivation of liberty of stateless persons only for violating migration rules. Unfortunately, 10 years later, stateless persons continue to be issued decisions on deliberately impracticable expulsion, which dooms them to years of detention in CTDFNs. For some of our applicants, such decisions have become fatal.

In Russia, the administrative legislation which regulates the procedure for bringing stateless persons to responsibility for violating migration rules is outdated. For many years, ADC Memorial has been trying to draw attention to the systemic violation of the rights of stateless persons who have been in custody for years in detention centers in the harshest conditions. Their fault lies only in the fact that they lost their belonging to any state and by coincidence once ended up in Russia, where they are considered violators of the current migration rules. They have no legal right to be in the Russian Federation, therefore they are detained, administrative proceedings are initiated in this relation and decisions on expulsion are issued, after which they are imprisoned in Centers for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals – in fact, for an indefinite period of time and without purpose, since it is impossible to deport such people to any country.

In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights made a major decision in the case of stateless person Roman Kim, declaring the long-term detention of stateless persons in CTDFNs a violation of the European Convention, and the conditions of detention in detention centres of Saint Petersburg – a torture. The general measures prescribed by the ECtHR were not carried out, therefore, a decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation in a similar case of a stateless person Noe Mskhiladze was required to declare unconstitutional the norms of Russian legislation that turn imprisonment in CTDFN in anticipation of an impracticable expulsion into additional punishment. Both of these decisions have become strategic in the fight for the rights of prisoners in detention centers. With reference to the decision of the Constitutional Court, it was possible to achieve the release of dozens of foreigners and stateless persons from the CTDFNs.

However, the legislative changes demanded by the high courts never happened. So far, no judicial control has been introduced over the terms and grounds for placement in Centers for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals. Human rights activists register not only cases of prolonged detention of stateless persons in custody in different regions of Russia, but also the deaths of prisoners of CTDFNs, directly related to unfixed terms and the harshest conditions of detention.

In many cases, imprisonment in CTDFN, if does not kill a person, then breaks a person’s life. An example of this is the dramatic story of a stateless person, who repeatedly ended up in detention centers and stayed there for a long time, and for the second time – having already won the case at the ECHR and received compensation. Still he was never able to legalize his status.

A native of Dushanbe, Khurshed Mardonshoev, like many former citizens of the USSR, did not become a citizen of any country in the 1990s. Since 1993 he has lived in Russia.

In 2014, Mardonshoev ended up in the Center for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals of Saint Petersburg, the conditions in which were recognized by the ECtHR as torture. He was transferred there from the detention center of the Arkhangelsk region, where he ended up due to non-execution of a court decision on expulsion (earlier, the Office of the Federal Migration Service for the Arkhangelsk region recognized his stay in Russia as undesirable, but without documents, he could not leave Russia, of course). Mardonshoev spent a total of 9 months in terrible conditions:

“Natural light does not penetrate well into the cells. The windows are translucent, with bars on each side. There is not enough daylight, and the lamp in the cell is very dim. The toilet is located in the cell itself. There are no cabins. There is a wall of medium height, about a meter high. There is no toilet. Shower every 5-7 days. Often under ice water, as there is often no hot water. We wash our clothes in buckets, also in cold water. There is no place for cooking, food is delivered ready-made. There is no clean drinking water in the cells, water can be taken from the shower room, but access to it is periodically restricted. The food is very scarce. They never give one fish, dairy products, fresh vegetables and fruits. They feed us mainly with primitive porridge and soups. Meat is rare and of terrible quality (mainly cartilage, veins, skin). Sweets are never given, even primitive chocolate or cookies. They take you for a walk for 15 minutes. Not every day. Walks take place in the courtyard between trailers – ‘cabin houses.’ There are no sports facilities and nothing at all. There is a horizontal bar in the part of the yard which prisoners cannot access.”

The court decided to expel Mardonshoev from the territory of the Russian Federation, despite the fact that he did not have identity documents and a country ready to ensure his departure from the Russian Federation. The bailiffs and the Federal Migration Service attempted to cancel his expulsion, but the court considered that even a stateless person could be taken out of Russia and that the length of the applicant’s detention was not unreasonable even if there were no prospects for expulsion. Only after months spent by the lawyer challenging this decision, in August 2015, the applicant was released.

After his release, Mardonshoev’s lawyers filed a complaint with the ECtHR for unlawful prolonged detention in inhuman conditions. On January 29, 2019, this complaint was upheld. In its decision, the European Court again found Russia guilty of violating the right to liberty and security of a stateless person, and the applicant was awarded monetary compensation.

During the time that he was out of detention center, Mardonshoev did not manage to get even a temporary identity card, he remained an “illegal immigrant”, and 2 years and 10 months after his release he was again found guilty of violating the rules of stay in the Russian Federation and again got into CTDFN.

The ruling of the Kirovsky District Court of Saint Petersburg dated November 1, 2021 states that the term of detention in a Center for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals should not exceed 3 months, but in reality, Mardonshoev spent 1 year and 1 month in custody.

On December 19, 2022, thanks to the efforts of a lawyer, Mardonshoev was again released, but during the time that he was at the Center for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals, serious changes took place in his life. His sister with whom he had lived before his imprisonment had died. Due to the lack of documents, he was never registered in her apartment, and therefore, after his release, he was left without a roof over his head. Nobody took him to work, and there was no opportunity to rent at least a room in a communal apartment. Constant wanderings around the rooming houses and abandoned houses, where he spent time with other homeless people, greatly affected his psychological and physical condition: he began to drink and fell ill with tuberculosis. In his position, his life is currently in serious danger, but without valid documents, he cannot even receive stable medical care.

All this could not have happened if the procedure for documenting and legalizing stateless persons on the territory of the Russian Federation had been introduced into Russian legislation in a timely manner and began to operate effectively. Changes to the Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens, which came into force in August 2021, have already allowed hundreds of stateless persons to obtain a temporary identity card. However, as we see in the case of Khurshed Mardonshoev, the documentation procedure does not work well, stateless persons can be detained at any time for “illegality”, imprisoned for two years, released in the same status of “illegal immigrants” with the risk of being deprived of liberty again. 400,000-500,000 people in Russia face the risk of such a fate – this is how human rights activists estimate the number of stateless people (according to the 2020-21 census – about 95,000 people).

Now that Russia has been expelled from the Council of Europe and is denouncing European conventions, including the Conventions on Human Rights, the prisoners of the Centers for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals will lose the opportunity to seek the protection of their rights in the ECtHR, and the judgments of the European Court will no longer be enforced by the Russian authorities and taken into account by the courts.