Russia has enacted reforms to its immigration detention laws, introducing time limits and judicial oversight on the detention of stateless people. The changes come after years of advocacy by ENS member ADC Memorial, including as part of ENS’s #LockedinLimbo campaign to end arbitrary detention of stateless people, evidencing the value of advocacy, strategic litigation, and persistence.
The reforms, signed into law on 25 December 2023, limit detention of migrants in immigration removal centres to a maximum of 90 days. Courts will now be required to approve any extension beyond this. Detainees will also have the right to request deportation earlier, at their own expense, and courts must consider these requests within five days.
Crucially, detainees can appeal to the courts if there is no realistic prospect of them actually being removed. Previously, stateless migrants could be held indefinitely with no recourse to challenge their detention.
“After so many years of working with victims of arbitrary detention, we are delighted that stateless people will no longer languish locked in limbo. While the reforms confirmed our efforts, it also goes to show that we need to keep the work going – real change takes time, and we must persist through every small victory and setback along the way.” said Stephania Kulaeva, Director of ADC Memorial.
The reforms follow a landmark 2017 ruling by Russia’s constitutional court (see case summary on the ENS Statelessness Case Law Database), which found unlimited detention of stateless migrants unconstitutional. The case was part of a decade-long campaign by rights groups including ADC Memorial. A key milestone was also a European Court of Human Rights judgment in 2014 in the case of Kim v Russia (see case summary on the ENS Statelessness Case Law Database), a stateless migrant unlawfully held in detention for two years.
Chris Nash, Director of the European Network on Statelessness welcomed the changes. “After years of campaigning for an end to arbitrary detention of stateless people, the new law finally introduces checks and balances,” he said. “Stateless people detained in Russia can no longer be locked up indefinitely with no end in sight. This win also evidences the huge value of strategic litigation and highlights the need for patience and persistence in translating this into law and policy reform.”
Although the Kim and Mskhiladze strategic litigation cases focused on statelessness, the reforms have much wider implications. Now all migrants held in Russia’s deportation centres have the right to regular court hearings to determine whether their detention should continue or they should be released.
This is crucial for Ukrainian citizens who cannot currently be deported due to the war, as well as other detainees who can now ask the courts to replace detention with another form of supervision, for reasons such as health or family ties.
Hence while stateless people were the focus of campaigning efforts and will particularly benefit from these reforms, the positive ramifications are much wider in scope. This provides real hope for freedom for thousands of detainees held in immigration detention in Russia.