‘I Would Buy Registration, but I Truly Have No Money’

Refugees from Ukraine explain why they had registered in the human rights activist Tatiana Kotlyar’s apartment.

The second trial against human rights defender Tatiana Kotlyar and her «rubber apartment» in Obninsk is nearing completion. Which punishment the court will impute to an elderly woman, who is registering refugees from Ukraine, is yet unclear. Judge Dmitriy Trifonov talks with Tatiana Mikhailovna almost kindly. If it had not been him who had tried and convicted Kotlyar the last time, one would assume that Trifonov is on the side of  the “criminal”, who is accused of making 176 “fake registrations”.

“Fake” in this case means that everyone, who Kotlyar registered in her apartment, wasn’t actually living with her. Tatyana Mikhailovna is head of the Department of the All-Russian social movement “For human rights” in the Kaluga region. Every day dozens of Ukrainians resorted to her for help. It wasn’t a coincidence that they were in Obninsk: in the Kaluga region, there is the State Program of resettlement of compatriots (Kaluga region is not only one involved in the program, but there are also 59 regions total; The Moscow region, however, is not included). President Putin signed the program in 2006. The goal is to help the citizens of Russia who have lived abroad and wanted to return home, as well as foreign nationals from former Soviet republics who settled down in Russia.

Bonuses of the State Program are compensation for relocation, payment of benefits, the opportunity to work without a special work permit, housing in some regions, also – acquiring citizenship under the simplified scheme for foreigners. Each region has its conditions. However, on the website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) in the section dedicated to this program, it says “page is not found”. One would have to search for information on third-party resources.

Description of the program looks very attractive on the paper, yet de facto there are many complications. For example about the list of documents that are required for the participation in the programme: “compatriot, who lives in Russian Federation (and is not the citizen of the country), should present originals of documents confirming his right to a permanent or temporary residence on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

A person who has relatives here won’t face big problems in this case (but again: they need to register at the place of residence and if they don’t live with their family, the presence of relatives will not help). However this is not the case with refugees, who don’t have any relatives  in Russia. By law, the receiving party is the one that needs to register, and not the refugees, because that’s why refugees are refugees – they run “not TO but FROM” – emphasises Tatiana Kotlyar. And this is very important. Many of those who fled their shelled houses, grabbed the documents, the children and went to where it was the most logical to – to the Russian Federation. Owners of the houses, where the Ukrainian refugees stayed,  refused to register them, trying to figure out what to do next.

Citizens of Russia are terribly afraid to register the un-relatives. But the fear that your apartment will be taken away is stereotypical and unfounded. In fact, a registered person can not apply for housing, does not become its co-owner, and the fee for utilities would increase only a little, on average – a hundred rubles (if an apartment has water meters).

When refugees come with their issue to Tatyana Kotlyar, she says, “No problem.” Then takes them to the MVD’s Migration Department and registers in her apartment. The human rights activist underlines that she understands the fictitious nature of such registration. But then she explains that she is doing it because of the absolute necessity. After all, without registration people in fact have no rights in Russia and are on the verge of survival: they can’t get a job, the status of temporary asylum, temporary residence permit (TRP) or join the state’s “Program of Resettlement”. Kotlyar’s primary goal is to ensure that the list of documents for participation in the state program is going to be changed.

Recently, refugees come to Kotlyar less often: the Department for migration in MVD of Obninsk town stopped accepting documents from potential participants of the state Program of resettlement if they were registered at Tatiana’s. They openly say: “Go and register at someone else”. they don’t say: “We will not accept these documents because we know that you do not live at Kotlyar’s, and registration should be at the place of residence”, but just insist on putting any other address, besides the already well-known address of human rights activist.

“When I asked the Azerbaijanis that are known of doing paid registration (also illegal, as Kotlyar, since it is only stamped, without residence, but for the money — ed.) I realize that this is unrealistic. I just don’t earn that much as a teacher.  What should I do, sell a kidney or the liver? What am I to do?” – looking at the judge and pulling the shirt, says Maria R.

The woman fled from the Donbass with her husband and elderly mother. Her husband was a taken prisoner in his hometown Dzerzhinsk. Shootings kept happening near their house, and the decision to leave was made right after the man was released. In Obninsk, thanks to Tatiana Kotlyar, Marya was able to get a job in the school. She now teaches Russian and literature in the Kaluga region; she has no accent, grammatically correct speech, beautifully decorated hair, modest clothing. She is trying to explain that in their poor condition it is impossible to find the money to buy the registration. And residence owners refuse to register them.

“If not for Tatiana Mikhailovna, I don’t know what I would do and where I would be. You know? Nobody hires, you cannot do anything. I cleaned toilets, and I have two degrees. I was looking for ways of the legalisation, and there was one man, Zabit. First, he wanted 13 thousand Rub for the help in joining the Program, and then he said 50k. This money is only for the joining. And then, he warned, when I will submit for the TRP, I will also have to pay 60 thousand. And for the citizenship, which is the next step, he wanted 50 thousand; I do not remember exactly” – Maria says truthfully.

Almost all of the witnesses from the Kotlyar’s side talk about the pricing of the fake registration in the town and start their speech with the gratitude towards Tatyana Mikhailovna because she did not ask for the money. “On the Internet, they write that registration is worth 20 thousand; we have a family of five, my husband and I and three children. So – 100 thousand for all. We didn’t have that much of money”, – says Daria D.

«In the FMS (Department for migration, MVD – ed.)  women are sitting and insolently asking money from the refugees from the Donbass. Or tell you that there are Azerbaijanis, go to them, they will do it for the money. Tatyana Mikhailovna took a big fat crust of bread away from them,” explains a refugee from the Donbass Igor R. to the judge.

At the exit of the courthouse, the witnesses continue to discuss the Azerbaijani group, which operates in the interests of the employees of migration department of the police. Prices, voiced by  “the helpers in obtaining documents”, differ. Someone said 20 thousand for registration at the place of stay, others say 30 thousand.

«But you can come to me, and give your acquaintances my number if you need any help», – Kotlyar soothes everyone.

The next hearing is scheduled for July 7, 2017. In court Tatiana Kotlyar is represented by the employee of the Network “Migration and Law” of the human rights centre “Memorial”, lawyer Illarion Vasiliyev.