Russian Ministry of Interior considers fast track citizenship for stateless persons

On July 4, 2018 the Chief Directorate for Migration of the Russian Ministry of Interior reported that it works on a draft law that would allow stateless persons and persons, who have stayed in the Russian Federation for a considerable period of time, but who do not have proper identity documents, to receive an identity card as soon as possible. Such a document can be obtained by applying to the local departments of the Ministry of Interior for migration. In future this certificate will be one of the grounds for obtaining Russian citizenship.

The need for providing documents for stateless persons was pointed out by lawyers and human rights defenders long ago. Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” in cooperation with lawyers Olga Tseitlina and Yury Serov raised this issue in a legal complaint to the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of “Kim v. Russia” back in 2014. In accordance with the decision of the Court, the Russian Federation was found guilty of violating a number of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including Article 5 Section 1 (long-term detention with no prospects for expulsion) and Article 5 Section 4 (violation of the right to legal appeal and judicial control of the legality and duration of detention). In its judgment in Kim’s case the ECtHR has ruled that Russia should adopt general measures to improve the situation, including measures for prevention of practice of placing stateless persons in the centres for temporary detention of foreign nationals and attempts to expel them. Besides that, the human rights report on the violation of the rights of stateless persons in Russia has also pointed to the absence of an effective procedure for legalizing stateless persons.

Back in 2017 Yevgeny Bobrov, the chairman of the Commission on migration of the Human Rights Council affiliated with the President of the Russian Federation, reported that the Russian Ministry of Interior was drafting such a document. However, official report about the beginning of work on the draft law was made only recently by the federal website on draft laws. As a justification for the necessity of adopting such a legal act, the ruling of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation on the case of a stateless person, Noe Mskhiladze, was cited. In his complaint, Mr. Mskhiladze had challenged the constitutionality of the provisions of Articles 31.7 and 31.9 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses, which had allowed long-term and aimless detention of stateless persons for the purpose of their further deportation from the Russian Federation, which in fact was impossible in the absence of a country of citizenship. According to the ruling of the Constitutional Court, these legal norms were declared unconstitutional, and the legislative bodies were instructed to make changes in the Code of Administrative Offences that would provide reasonable judicial control over the terms of detention of stateless persons, who were subjected to compulsory expulsion. The move to prepare draft amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences was made, the public hearings were held in August 2017, but the draft law itself has not yet been finalized.

The new draft law deals with the possibility of obtaining identity cards by persons, who reside on the territory of the Russian Federation with unregulated legal status, who do not have identity documents, who only have a passport of a USSR citizen or a birth certificate, which is not covered by Chapter 8.1 of the federal law No. 62-FZ “On the Citizenship of the Russian Federation” (dated May 31, 2002). The new identity card will serve as a basis for obtaining Russian citizenship.

Adoption of the new draft law will be a turning point for thousands of people living in Russia, but who have no citizenship. Currently they are being detained on a regular basis for “violation of immigration regulations”, and the courts rule on their expulsion from the country due to the lack of identity documents. They are often deprived of their liberty and placed into temporary detention centres for foreign nationals, de facto for indefinite periods of time since it is impossible to deport these people to any country. After two years of detention, the maximal possible term of deprivation of liberty to “ensure the expulsion”, they are released, but no documents are issued that allow them to legally reside in the Russian Federation. As a result of that, they are often deprived of their liberty again as violators of the immigration regulations. Thus, a person who does not have citizenship, can spend many years in prison because he or she could not get a passport of any of the former Soviet republics following the collapse of the USSR.

Over the last year alone five stateless persons, who had been imprisoned in the temporary detention centre for foreign nationals, were released in St. Petersburg with the assistance of the Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial”. All of them had spent months in custody. Their rights were violated despite the above-mentioned decision of the Constitutional Court. If the new draft law is adopted, there will be no similar violations in future, which in fact will be a considerable victory not only for stateless persons, but also for human rights defenders who struggled for their rights.