Global Compact for Migration vs New anti-migration policy in Russia

This post is also available in: Russian

On the day of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, representatives of the governments of 150 countries gathered at a conference to support the adoption of a new global compact intended to help the world solve one of its most pressing human rights problems — migration, which opened with great ceremony in Morocco. One of the stated purposes of this compact is “to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities migrants face at different stages of migration.” Just prior to the conference, in late October 2018, the Russian president signed the order “On the Strategy for State Migration Policy for 2019–2025.” This new strategy was adopted before the existing strategy was set to expire in 2025 and establishes more rigid principles for the treatment of migrants.

The previous strategy criticized Russia’s extremely complicated procedures for obtaining various types of migration status and acknowledged that the huge amount of “illegal migration” into Russia was a result of imperfect laws and practices. It prioritized protection of the rights and liberties of migrants and a social safety net for migrants and devoted a great deal of space to the integration and adaptation of various categories of migrants.

The focus has shifted in the new strategy: instead of simplifying procedures and creating new migration programs (like seasonal migration for students), it addresses combating phenomena which, in view of the intensity of the migration flow, “may become a threat for the Russian Federation and its bordering countries.” In particular, it highlights threats including negative socioeconomic processes and the danger that members of criminal structures, terrorists, and extremists will penetrate Russian territory. While the resettlement program for compatriots was just a part of the general, comparatively liberal principles of the previous strategy, the new strategy refers much more pointedly to the priority ofresettling compatriots and native Russian speakers, the Russian“cultural (civilizational) code,” and the fight against illegal migration.

The strategy’s text abounds with the terms “security,” “extremism,” and “combatting illegal immigration,” while it mentions next to nothing about human rights, the fight against discrimination, and the social guarantees that most foreigners arriving for work need. It also gives a clear indication of the kind of people considered “desirable” migrants: these are primarily compatriots (Russians,Russian speakers, people fluent in Russia), who make up just a small number of migrants to Russia.

According to Ministry of Internal Affairs statistics, just over 100,000 compatriots were granted legal status in 2017, while almost five million migrants travelled to Russia for work. And these are the same five million migrants who pay taxes and work permit fees and make other mandatory payments to the state treasury, but who generally do not have the right to free medical care and pensions.

Antimigration rhetoric has long been a part of sociopolitical discourse in Russia, so enshrining this “value system” in a specialized document appears legal. Migrant phobia is very strong in Russian society, especially because the government lacks an adequate integration program and a transparent, accessible procedure for legalizing foreigners. Migrants come up against woe fully complex bureaucratic procedures and spend significant amounts on documents permitting them to live and work in Russia. This frequently forces them to circumventthe law and seek niches where it is easier to conceal one’s legal status. Meanwhile, means for restricting the rights of migrants and reasons for excluding people from the migrant flow are multiplying (expulsion and entry bans can be handed down for several administrative violations, for example, violation of traffic rules).

To resolve these problems, the new strategy proposes blanket formulations about “making administrative procedures more transparent and protecting them from corruption,” “reducing the likelihood of unfounded decisions and technical errors,” “creating mechanisms of social and cultural adaptation,” and “adopting measures to prevent segregation.” There are no specific responses to questions of how these problems, particularly corruption in the migration sphere, will be eliminated or what will be done to rectify the “technical errors” that cause migrants to be expelled, confined indetention centers, and forcibly separated from their families.

Not unexpectedly, the strategy contains not even one word about children, who make up a significant part of the migration flow, even though children have a more acute need than adults for ethnocultural adaption and protection. There does not appear to be an end in sight to the police raids during which migrant children are detained as if they were adults and, if a law has been violated, are taken from their parents and placed in special institutions. Children frequently suffer from the absence in Russian laws of provisions stipulating anextension of their stay in the country along with their parents. During the academic year, this impinges on the right of migrant children to an education because it forces them to cross the Russian border every three months. Finally, many Russian schools refuse to accept migrant children because of problems with their registrationat their place of stay.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly noted the need for compliance with the rights of migrant children and the state’s obligation to treat them as all other children, regardless of their documents and parents’ situations. Such disregard for their rightsin favor of the precedence of a “culture code” and “protectionof Russian culture and language” is inexcusable.

Thiscrude and unrealistic policy on migrants only serves to provoke ethnic tension.

Aless noticeable but extremely vulnerable part of the migration segment is comprised of stateless persons. According to the strategy, measures must be adopted to issue them identity documents. Amendments to the law wereprepared long ago but never adopted, so tens of thousands of people who have lived in Russia for years without the necessary personal documents have no path to citizenship. Now stateless persons are arrested for “violation of migration rules,” court rulings on their deportation are issued, and they are imprisoned, to all intentsand purposes, indefinitely, since it is not possible to deport them to any country. They are released after two years (the maximum possible time to “secure deportation”), but they are not issue dany documents that would allow them to remain in Russia legally. As aresult, they are often imprisoned again as violators of migration rules.

Russiaranks fourth among receiving countries, so the result of implementing the strategy must be the creation of a situation that would not justmake it possible to use the potential of migration for the good of the country, but that would also ensure the rights, liberties, and legal interests of all people involved in the migration process. One of the paragraphs detailing the goals of migration policy refers to “the creation of conditions for adaptation to the legal and socio economic conditions of life in Russia for foreign citizens.”Since there are no real proposals for resolving the problems of the rights violations, xenophobia, and discrimination that follow migrants through life, it appears that migrants are simply being told to get used to these conditions.

In early December 2018, another strategy was updated—the Strategy of State National Policy. This policy has more to say about equality of human rights and freedoms, but it still calls “illegal migration”a threat to national security. The core idea behind the text is the endorsement of the concept of a common Russian identity. As the policy states, this identity is “based on the preservation of the Russian cultural dominant inherent in all peoples populating the Russian Federation.” In referring to a“Russian cultural dominant” that presupposes not multiculturalism, but the pre-eminence of a Russian culture over others, the authors of this strategy risk creating even greate rcultural distance not just between the migrant and Russian populations, but within Russia itself, where different peoples will perceive their identities as hostile to the Russia identity. Therefore, the negative factors that the authors of both strategies frighten us with will never be eliminated, while the crude and unrealistic policy for foreign and national minorities will, on the contrary, only serve to provoke ethnic tension.

Sergey Mikheyev

Published on Radio Svoboda