Human Rights Watch: With Risk of Spreading Covid-19, Government Should Find Alternatives

Human Rights Watch: Russia: As Pandemic Grows, Migration Detention Deadlock

(Moscow) – Thousands are stuck in migration detention indefinitely in Russia because the travel restrictions under the Covid-19 epidemic mean that their removal is not imminent, Human Rights Watch said today.

Russian authorities should provide safe and dignified alternatives to migration detention for people facing deportation or court-mandated expulsion. They should also improve access to healthcare and ensure social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Russia’s migration detention centers.

“The huge global challenge that the Covid-19 pandemic poses does not absolve Russia, nor any government, from living up to its human rights obligations,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “To stop the spread of Covid-19 inside and outside of Russia’s migration detention facilities, the Russian government should immediately offer alternatives to migration detention, especially given that many migrants cannot be deported or removed at this time.”

More than 8,000 people, including families with children, are effectively being held in indefinite detention across Russia because of the near-total shutdown in international travel. In some instances, children have been separated from their parents, held in different detention centers, and placed in separate removal proceedings.

The very poor conditions in many of Russia’s migration detention facilities are well known. Overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and poor sanitation are notable problems. Since the onset of the pandemic, the police continue to arrest migrants for a range of reasons, now including violation of the lockdown regime, which could lead to further overcrowding of the detention centers.

As multiple cases before the European Court of Human Right have confirmed, for years Russia has detained indefinitely people who cannot be removed from the country, violating the prohibition on arbitrary detention and other guarantees of liberty and security.

Russian authorities should take immediate steps to reduce the immigration detention facility population and place detainees in alternative settings that facilitate their protection from Covid-19. This includes providing access to facilities that allow for adequate space for social distancing, and where migrants can secure food, hygiene products, and healthcare. Government measures should take into account the individual circumstances of all migrants, respect the dignity and autonomy of affected people, and ensure that no one is made homeless or otherwise destitute as a result of release from detention.

Some of Russia’s top rights groups that focus on migrants’ rights and conditions in detention, including Civic Assistance, Anti-Discriminatory Center “Memorial,” Human Rights Center “Memorial,” the “For Human Rights” movement, and members of Public Monitoring Commissions, have recommended that the government release foreigners whose prompt repatriation is not possible or who are especially vulnerable to coronavirus due to their health conditions. Their statement noted that this measure would protect the health and lives of detainees and would contribute to preventing the spread of Covid-19 within and beyond migration detention facilities.

The Russian authorities should also consider a temporary moratorium on police checks of migration documents and expulsion and deportation orders until the quarantine, lockdown, and curfew restrictions are lifted. This could prevent a further increase in the number of detainees, overcrowding, and risk of exposure to the virus for migrants, police, and staff of the detention centers.

“The Russian authorities should not continue to turn a blind eye to the plight of migrants in detention and should mobilize provision of alternative housing in hotels, unused buildings, and sports halls, if necessary, to provide safe, adequate shelter that allows for social distancing,” Denber said. “This is a test not only of Russia’s legal system and the government’s crisis preparedness, but of its humanity and decency.”

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