Russia Update: Migration Service to Close all Temporary Placement Centers for Refugees from Ukraine

November 12, 2015
A refugee boy from Ukraine at the Rodnik children's sanitorium in the town of Gribnoye. Photo by Yury Smityuk/TASS

Russian authorities have decided to close all temporary placement centers for refugees from war-torn areas of Ukraine by December 31

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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UPDATES BELOW


Mother of Tajik Infant Who Died in Police Custody Ordered to Be Deported from Russia

The Tajik mother of an infant who died in police custody in St. Petersburg after a raid on migrants last month is now being deported from Russia, Novaya Gazeta reported.
Novaya Gazeta has provided extensive coverage in recent weeks of the case of 5-month-old Umarali Nazarov who died after police arrested his mother Zarina Yunusova, age 21, and her brother-in-law as illegal immigrants. The infant was taken to a police station but said to be neglected, and died despite being rushed to a hospital that night.
Police claimed the parents had neglected the baby, but Novaya Gazeta reported that the parents, while earning only a modest living as migrants, had cared for their child, showing pictures of warm beddings and a traditional painted cradle from Tajikistan.

2015-11-12 20:26:28

In the early morning of October 13, Yunusova and her infant son along with Daler Nazarov, her brother-in-law, age 17, was arrested in a raid by the Federal Migration Service. They were taken to the Admiralteysky Police Precinct no. 1 where the mother and baby were separated. Yunusova was taken to a holding cell at 15:00 to await a court hearing and was released only at 21:00, whereupon she found that her baby had died. Police had taken the infant to the police station, where he was put aside, until they noticed he was ill and rushed him to the hospital at 13:30, where he died that night.

The city court of St. Petersburg ruled today that Yunusova had to be deported from Russia within 15 days, despite the fact that investigation into the death of her child hasn’t been completed. Her permission to stay in Russia had earlier expired December 23, 2014. Yunusova explained that she was unable to fly home at that time because she was pregnant; her baby was born in May 2015.
The ruling followed a notice published on the web site of the Investigative Committee on November 10 saying the parents had refused to provide blood samples to authorities for the investigation and were therefore liable to charges of obstruction of a death investigation. They said an autopsy had found that the baby died of a virus. While a case had been opened to investigate accusations of neglect by the police, the Investigative Committee didn’t say whether it would continue; meanwhile they said an investigation was opened into the parents’ alleged obstruction of justice.
As Novaya Gazeta reported on October 21, police took Yunusova and her husband Rustam Nazarov to a city toxicology laboratory where they attempted to forcibly make them give blood samples. Only thanks to the arrival of their attorneys was the effort stopped.
On November 11, the medical examiner told the state press that he had discounted the diagnosis of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome given initially and said the baby had died from the cytomegalovirus, a common virus that can be passed from a mother to her child at birth and which has no obvious symptoms. Children do not always become ill from it unless they have a weakened immune system.
The examiner added that no drugs, medications or alcohol were found in the baby’s system. He explained that the infant was also diagnosed with pneumonia and enteritis, conditions that would have preceded the arrest.
Attorney Olga Tseytlina complained that TASS, the state media agency and Fontanka.ru released the news about the autopsy results before the mother was informed, citing a source in the medical examiner’s office of St. Petersburg. Novaya Gazeta was unable to obtain any documents from the autopsy. The parents objected that their infant had not been sick before the arrest, pointing to records of immunizations for the child that had all been made on schedule for his age, and a doctor’s report from an examination before his death showing that he was healthy.
Yunusova’s lawyers say the detention of the three Tajik citizens was made with numerous procedural violations. Due to a mix-up in translators, Yunusova was unable to be understood — she was given an Uzbek interpreter, which is a different language than Tajik. At the time, Yunusova refused to sign an arrest statement since she didn’t understand Russian. Finally a Tajik interpreter was found later to tell her what had happened to her child; she said he had literally been ripped from her arms.
Lawyers attempted to appeal to the court to have testify the policemen, an official from the child affairs agency and the translator who took part in the raid, but their petition was denied.

Tseytlina outlined all the violations in the case, and pointed out that there were no grounds for seizing the baby, as there was no evidence that he was neglected. The honorary consul of Tajikistan has filed a complaint with the Russian court.

Every year, tens of thousands of Tajiks migrate to Russia seeking menial work; the remittance economy is a big part of Tajikistan’s GDP. Since the economic crisis in Russia began last year, the numbers of labor migrants have dropped dramatically causing more poverty in Tajikistan. In a wave of nationalist extremism that preceded even the invasion of Ukraine, there have been more attacks on migrants, many of whom come from Central Asia, and efforts to get them deported from major cities.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Bank of Russia Issues A Trillion Rubles, Said to Be ‘Seasonal’

The Russian media has been avidly discussing the news that the Bank of Russia, or Central Bank as it is known is printing 3 million rubles, showing images such as currency printing presses and a parachutist in freefall.

Translation: #Central Bank dared to make a real emission? They are printing a trillion rubles.

At a press conference in Russian-occupied Crimea, Georgy Luntovsky, first deputy chairman of the Bank of Russia said that “about a trillion rubles” would be issued by the end of the year. The percentage of cash in the Russian economy is currently 78.6%, he added, according to a TASS report.

Yevgeny Gavrilenkov, managing director of Sberbank, told RBC.ru that this is a “seasonal increase in the volume of cash, characteristic for the end of the year” and that “it is not a question of increasing the volume of cash.”

Russians receive end-of-year bonuses and gifts and spend them on New Year’s presents, then cut back at the start of the year. In January, the volume usually reduces, he added.

Luntovsky said that a 100-ruble note would soon be issued to commemorate the annexation of the Crimea, polit.ru reported, and denied the 10,000 ruble denomination would be created.

But these announcements paled compared to the mention of the trillion to be issued, which sparked memories of the government’s printing of cash in the Yeltsin era, which led to rampant inflation in the 1990s, polit.ru commented. The ruble crashed in 1998, setting the stage for the coming to power of Vladimir Putin.

Luntovsky tried to calm fears by saying the 3 million wouldn’t be created by literally printing ruble notes at the state plant in Perm, but transfering non-cash accounts to credit organizations or government accounts.

Polit.ru believes that the infusion of cash now is not the pumping into the economy of cheap cash, which has been proposed by conservative presidential advisor Sergei Glazyev and his supporters, but financing the deficit of the federal budget from the reserve fund.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Prison Chief Bars Human Rights Council Member and Journalist Masyuk From Visiting Opposition Leader’s Brother Oleg Navalny
Gennady Kornienko, director of the Federal Corrections Service (FSN) refused to allow Yelena Masyuk, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta and a member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights from visiting Oleg Navalny, brother of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Novaya Gazeta reported.

Oleg is serving a 2.5 year sentence in a labor colony in Orlov Region on charges of fraud related to a mail-order business that had contracted with the French company Yves Rocher. The case was widely seen as fabricated in retaliation for the anti-corruption work of Alexey Navalny, who was given a suspended sentence of 2.5  years in the same case. Yves Rocher had no claims against the brothers.

Oleg has not been involved in opposition activity, and his brother declared his arrest last December as “hostage-taking” to put pressure on himself.

Recently, Oleg has sent reports out of the colony complaining of poor treatment and placement in the punishment cell three times on various pretexts. He issued an appeal to Kornienko which has been published by Novaya Gazeta and requested signatures. Already 11,500 verified signatures have been made, among them 40 prominent people from various fields, including writer Vladimir Voynovich, Nobel literature prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich, Dmitry Gudkov, State Duma MP, Yevgeny Royzman, mayor of Yekaterinburg, and Yevgeniya Chirikova, environmentalist.
Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Human Rights Council had appealed to Kornienko with a request to allow a visitor to the labor colony. The request for Masyuk was denied in a letter today, but Kornienko offered to provide permission for another Council member, Andrei Babushkin.
Masyuk is a prominent journalist who worked for NTV in the days of its independence and was kidnapped by Chechen rebels in 1996. She was eventually released after a ransom was paid.
Last August, Fedotov had asked Kornienko to allow Masyuk and Babushkin to visit another prisoner, Yevteniya Vasilyeva, at that time held in a labor colony in the Oboronservis case. Then, too, Kornienko permitted Babushkin to enter the colony, but not Masyuk. Babushkin then expressed doubts that the person he saw was indeed Vasilyeva; there was suspicion that because of her connections to the defense ministry, she was not forced to actually serve her sentence in colony. Later, she was released early “for good behavior” after only 2 months.

At the time, Kornienko said confusingly that he couldn’t allow Masyuk into the camp because she was a member of the presidential council in Moscow, but the colony was in Vladimir Region. The fact is that Babushkin was at that time a member of the same council so the claim didn’t make sense.  Now it seems as if the same pretext is being used to keep a journalist out of the colony despite Russian law that allows for inspections of places of detention by public groups.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

ISIS Issues Russian-Language Video Threatening Russia with Attack ‘Very Soon’

ISIS had released a video threatening to attack Russia “very soon,” the Jerusalem Post reported, citing the SITE intelligence group.

According to a news item today on SITE: 

Al-Hayat Media Center, the foreign language media division of the Islamic State (IS), released a Russian-language video chant threatening attacks in Russia and featuring gory scenes from beheading and gunshot execution productions.

The Jerusalem Post said that the video chant was translated as “Soon, very soon, the blood will spill like an ocean.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Ruble is Tumbling Again to 66 Per US Dollar
The ruble is taking a fall again after a period of rallying when President Vladimir Putin launched air strikes in Syria September 30.
Currently, according to the popular site Zenrus.ru, the exchange rate for the ruble is 66.28 to the dollar and 71.40 to the euro, with the cost of a barrel of oil down to $44.57.
Interest rates on ruble deposits in banks have fallen in the first 10 days of November by contrast with the previous month, and have fallen to the level they were last November, says RBC.ru. Last year, interest rates were 9.895% at the 10 largest banks and currently they are at 9.92%. After the Central Bank sharply hiked the key rate to 17%, the rates did not fall below 10%. Now the key rate is at 11%.
There may be a slight increase coming in December as people receive bonuses or dividends.

Government officials are working on a plan to create an alternative to savings accounts which would enable citizens to invest in federal securities through their banks which would help lower the deficit.

In October, an increased demand for CDs was observed, as more people invested in them. Russians spent 25.5 billion rubles ($385 million) on CDs during the past month; they produce higher interest but cannot be withdrawn or accessed via ATMs.

The Bank of Russia dismissed rumors that they were printing bank notes with a new denomination of 10,000 ruble, Gazeta.ru reported. A representative said that until inflation fell to 2-3% there would be no sense in such a denomination.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Russian Migration Service May Extend Stay of Refugees from Ukraine in Temporary Centers for a Year
Earlier today we reported that the Federal Migration Service (FMS) had announced the closure of all temporary refugee placement centers in Russia for people who fled the war in Ukraine.
This predictably caused an uproar on a number of fronts as human rights groups and refugees themselves protested that this would create undue hardship as cold weather begins.
According to RBC.ru, the original report came from Flashnord, based on the statement from Elena Kalinina, head of the department for public liaison of the municipal services in Murmansk. She said there was a government directive to close all the refugee centers by December 31.
A source within the FMS confirmed the decision to close the centers to RBC.ru earlier today.
The decision was made because the “free period” of one year granted last fall to all persons from Ukraine who sought refuge was coming to an end.
Refugees were being told they either had to go back to Ukraine or find housing within Russia by appearing at FMS offices to adjust their status.
But RBC.ru reports now that a notice has appeared on the FMS web site that speaks of a regulation being drafted now that calls for “continuing to provide assistance in the social and living accommodation of citizens of Ukraine in 2016.” That proposed budget asks for an increase in funding for placement of the refugees until December 31, 2016.
The decision to close the centers may be based on scarcity of funding as Russia faces an economic crisis. Last year, the FMS spent more than 3.2 billion rubles ($48 million) on housing refugees, and had planned to issue some additional assistance to individual regions of more than 3.8 million ($57,000) rubles,the FMS said.
In any event, as the FMS draft proposal will still have to be approved by the Kremlin, the status of refugees is unclear — and precarious.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Russia to Close all Temporary Placement Centers for Refugees from Ukraine
Russian authorities have decided to close all temporary placement centers for refugees from war-torn areas of Ukraine by December 31, RBC.ru reported. The refugees will have to decide either to return to Ukraine or remain in Russia.
A source in the Federal Migration Service (FMS) confirmed to RBC.ru that the decision had been made to close the centers where refugees had been given temporary housing and support, but did not specify the reason for their closure.

Russia has been eager to solve the enormous refugee problem Moscow itself has generated through launching the military offensive in the Donbass last year.

Konstantin Romodanovsky, head of the FMS, says a million people have fled from Ukraine, mainly ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers. Of these, more than 400,000 of them have obtained temporary refugee status and another 200,000 have permission for temporary residence. The number of refugees who plan long-term stays in Russia who have no status or papers is over 600,000, he says.

Last year as people began to stream away from the war zones, the Federal Migration Center opened up temporary housing in hotels, Soviet-era Pioneer camps, day care centers and other social welfare facilities. According to the FMS, there are 229 temporary centers in 65 of Russia’s 89 regions. Registered in them are 16,418 Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons, including 5,230 children under the age of 18. The cost of the maintenance of the refugees is 800 rubles (US $12) a day.
The independent Committee for Citizens Initiative recently issued a report on refugees from Ukraine with different figures, says RBC.ru: 317,000 people with the status of refugee; 378,000 with the status of temporary asylum; and 40,000 who have come through Russia’s programs to repatriate Russians, i.e. people who can show grounds for Russian citizenship.
After the annexation of Crimea and the launch of the offensive in the Donbass last spring, the Russian government instituted a “free” period where citizens of Ukraine could stay in Ukraine for a year without having to seek a formal legal status. Now, except for those from the southeastern regions of Ukraine, all refugees from Ukraine must appear at the FMS by November 30 in order to determine their status.
The FMS also said there were about 400,000 citizens of Ukraine who are in Russia “illegally”; it was not clear how they were distinguished from those 600,000 who have no status.
The decision will great hardship for refugees families just as cold weather begins — they will have to find accommodation inside Russia, or risk going back to areas where fighting is still ongoing or where they may be met with hostility.
Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of Civic Action, an NGO that helps refugees and internally displaced persons commented on the announcement (translation by The Interpreter):

“The impression is formed that the authorities’ logic is the following: the authorities waged a propaganda campaign for several months, trying to portray what a humane country Russia is, and now the refugees have fulfilled their function and therefore they can be shown the door.”

She said that more than 60,000 people were in the temporary centers, and officials have been gradually closing them down in recent months.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick