“The Weak against the Strong, Is
Always in the Wrong”
Lawyer Olga Pavlovna Tseitlina shares
her opinion on the migrant situation in Russia.
Have there been any serious changes
with respect to the status of migrants in Russia in recent years?
After legislation was adopted with
respect to the legal status of foreign citizens, thereby forcing at
least a certain amount of transparency upon all of the subordinate regulatory
acts and bylaws, it is now clear, at the very least, what the rules
are. Now, the main problem is actually initiating the process
of legalizing one’s status, in the event that someone has this right
under the law. For instance, let’s say that a certain person
was born on the territory of the Russian Federation, or he or she has
direct relations who are Russian citizens. Or there is a mixed
marriage, one involving a citizen of a foreign country and a Russian
citizen, and there is a child. These people have the right to
a fairly preferential regime when applying for citizenship. However,
in cases in which the necessary, current documentation is missing, or
if visas are missing, or if the period for staying legally on the territory
of the Russian Federation has run out, then there is a vicious circle:
these individuals may not be kicked out of the country, but nor can
they begin the process of acquiring citizenship. The second serious
problem is quotas. This is completely confidential information!
For example, I have a client, a citizen of Ukraine, whose husband is
also a Ukrainian citizen: she lived for a long time in Russia;
her grandparents live here. She has been trying to gain citizenship
through the quota allotments, but it has already been several years
that she has been told that the quota has already been met, and there
was not enough room for her. However, if one attempts to acquire
citizenship via quotas through a commercial firm, then he or she can
just pay money, and room will be “found” within the quota.
The money required, though, is no small sum: not everyone can
But at least for
those people there is some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.
There are many people on the territory of Russia without citizenship.
Who is waiting for them?
This is truly a very serious situation.
For example, let’s say a certain person has a Soviet passport issued
in 1974 that is no longer a valid document (confirming the identity
of that person) because the owner is not officially registered.
In the Krokovidov case, the Russian Supreme Court refused to accept
a petition when we tried to contest the norm for the set period of validity
for passports, saying that the norm for the expiration period is set
for the benefit of various internal affairs bodies, not for citizens
themselves, inasmuch as a passport is a document whose purpose is to
officially attest to a citizen’s identity. That is to say, internal
affairs bodies will accept an expired passport as confirmation of an
individual’s identity, which is the official purpose of the passport;
the fact that the person’s registration has expired because the passport
is officially expired is the citizen’s own problem. Indeed,
citizens who have such invalid passports cannot in practice do anything:
they are not sold tickets with their passports, when they want to leave,
they are not able to cross the border, and they do not have any other
form of identification. There is a particular problem with Georgia,
wherein people are not able to either enter or to exit if the period
of their legal stay in Russia has expired.
it is no longer that difficult to get registered?
On first glance, yes: it is sufficient
to merely send notification by mail. But the real problem is that,
in practice, all documentation that is necessary for registration must
be given to various internal affairs bodies to be confirmed; sending
it by mail alone is not actually enough. This is particularly
relevant to immigrants from such impoverished countries as Iraq, Afghanistan,
and the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville): these people
cannot return to their respective states freely, and kicking them out
of Russia is not possible, since tearing family units apart is not desirable.
What is the situation with migrant
laborers? Six months ago our labor services said that we are in
desperate need of foreign labor, that the quotas would be raised.
And then all of a sudden, all at once, they said instead that all migrants
need to be sent home!
Yes, in the second half of 2008, at
the request of labor services, the Department of Federal Migration Services
(УФМС) raised the quota because Russians are not interested in the
jobs that migrant laborers take in Russia. Even now (with respect
to the current economic crisis), it is predominantly “white collar
workers” who have lost their jobs-people who would not sweep streets
or wash dishes in a kebab stand, take out trash, or do other manual
labor on a construction site. Furthermore, another problem has
arisen wherein employers are using the crisis as an excuse to fire their
workers without paying them all of the wages owed.
Have people who have been cheated
like this been turning to you for legal assistance?
They have. I know of many such
instances, but as a rule, there is really nothing that can be done because
these laborers do not have any contracts in their possession, and it
is impossible to prove that they had, at one point, worked in a certain
place. In fact, labor contracts are rarely made out for these
types of workers. Or, if they are, they are made out under Russian
citizens’ names, and the migrants, in turn, work under the contracts
made out in others’ names.
Has there been any recent increase
in the number of police reports filed by migrants
in terms of beatings or other acts of violence committed against them?
Certainly, such police reports have
never been in short supply. However, there has recently been an
increase in the incidence of the detainment of persons who are under
investigation in their own respective countries. On the one hand,
such detainment cannot be but welcomed. However, it is essential that
the proper extradition procedures be observed. As for the number
of beatings, there have always been many, but this is latent, hidden
criminal behavior against foreigners: it is even difficult for
a Russian to file a police report about an attack against him, and as
for a foreigner-he is immediately asked on what grounds he is located
in Russia. If the legal period of stay has run out for such a
person filing a report, or if there are some other problems with his
or her papers, then the possibility of deportation immediately arises.
These victims turn into criminals in the eyes of the law, and the police
have no interest in filing reports for such people.
Interview by Natalia Shkurenok