Punished for statelessness: man dies after 11 months of detention in Russia

Vepkhviya Sordia died 8th of October in a hospital in Saint Petersburg, one day after his release from detention centre for foreigners (SUVSIG), where he was kept for a second time for almost a year. The lawyer of Mr. Sordia insisted on his liberation many times before that, bringing to court the argument that a stateless man should not face detention aimed at deportation, that could not be performed as no one country recognized this man as their citizen. The courts were also informed about the poor health of Mr. Sordia, who was suffering from Hepatitis and needed urgent medical care (his cellmates reported that he had been unable to sleep from pain). However, the city court decision of 16th of August 2016 says: “the fact that V.M. Sordia has a disease is not considered a ground for overruling an expulsion on administrative grounds ordered by the judge of the district court”.

Nothing changed even after the Russian government was queried about the health problem of Mr. Sordia by the European Court of Human Rights (defenders of Mr. Sordia asked the Court to take an urgent action in accordance with EHCR rule 39).

In fact Mr. Sordia was released and taken to hospital only when he was already dying and it was clear for the authorities that he had just some hours to live. The whole responsibility for the death following disease that could have been cured, lies on the authorities, who turned a blind eye on the suffering and danger for life, of a man whose only fault was the lack of any citizenship.

Since 2014 Mr. Sordia was arrested twice as a “person violating migration rules in Russia” – first time after a few months in prison he was released on a condition of leaving country by himself – something impossible for a man without documents, as crossing the border of Russia is considered a crime for anybody who has no permission/visa. Arrested again in 2015 he was accused not only in violating the migration rules, but also in ignoring the previous court verdict. He was detained again – in a place that has no medical aid whatsoever and where no doctor could visit him, while he was suffering. The vicious circle that Mr. Sordia ended up in, is typical for a stateless person in Russia – one has no passport and just this is enough to be considered a “violator of migration rules” (as every migrant is obliged to prove his legitimacy in Russia by showing the proper papers), the court sends such a person to a deportation center, but as no country is ready to accept a stateless, he or she remains in custody until 2 years (maximum time possible to keep one in such centers), but even after this person is free – he/she has no documents and can be arrested any time again. ECHR condemned the violation of stateless persons rights in its decision “Kim vs Russia” in 2014 and asked Russia to take general measures to prevent violation of article 3, 5 in these cases in the future. However, nothing has been done and the death of the stateless man Sordia is the result of cruel treatment of an ex-soviet citizen who could not get new papers due to the difficult circumstances.

The situation was aggravated by the fact that Mr. Sordia was born in Georgia – a country that has no diplomatic relations with Russia since 2008 and the request on his possible citizenship could be considered only by the Swiss diplomats performing a mediating role. The Embassy of Switzerland twice (in 2014 and in 2015) informed Russian authorities that Vepkhiya Sordia was not a Georgian citizen and therefore could not obtain a permission to be send to this country.

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