Russian courts continue to place stateless persons in detention

Mr. O., a native of Kyrgyzstan and a stateless person, who had been living in Russia for more than 15 years, has been kept in a temporary detention centre for foreign nationals for 8 months, since September 2019. The court ruling on his expulsion and a fine of 5,000 rubles, with a prior placement into a detention centre for foreign nationals was first adopted by the Krasnogvardeisky district court of St. Petersburg back in September. In December 2019 this court ruling was upheld by the St. Petersburg city court. Finally, this decision was again approved on April 30, 2020 by the Third Court of Cassation of general jurisdiction, and thus O. was left without any hope of release from detention.

In the past stateless persons under similar circumstances were sometimes ruled to be released by the supervisory authorities. Recently, such decisions were made by the Third Court of Cassation, which this time, however, has “conveniently” forgot its own previous good practice: expulsion from the country is not feasible in such circumstances, there can be no deadline for execution for such a decision, as well as a legitimate and achievable goal, so it turns into arbitrary and illegal imprisonment. This position was formulated by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation in its decision dated May 23, 2017 in the case of N.G. Mskhiladze, which has created a legal mechanism for the release of stateless persons from the temporary detention centres for foreign nationals.

The decision in the case of O. contradicted the position of the Constitutional Court and doomed O. to unlawful and senseless imprisonment. It is all the more dramatic in a time of pandemic: detention centres where foreign citizens and stateless persons are being kept do not provide the opportunity to keep appropriate social distance, therefore making the detainees there extremely vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19 infection and the detention centres themselves – place for potential spread of the pandemic. Court rulings on the release of persons whose expulsion from the country is impossible should be taken without delay, also because it is one of the measures for maintaining public health.

In March 2020 Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, called on the member states to release the maximum possible number of detained migrants due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had caused many states to close their borders, thus making expulsion procedure impossible.