39 Recognized Refugees in 2016. Russia Abysmal Records and why Malta is Stronger than the Largest Country in the World

In 2016, Russia recognized four times less refugees than Malta, the smallest country in the EU.

Situation in the world and in Russia

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees by the end of 2016 there were 22.5 million refugees, 2.8 million asylum seekers  and more than 40 million internally displaced persons in the world. This number is record high since the end of the Second World War.

Picture 1. The number of refugees (grey bars) and internally displaced persons in the world from 1997 to 2016 (according to UNHCR).

In Russia, by the end of 2016 598 persons possessed the official refugee status which corresponds to the UN Convention “On the Status of Refugees”. This is the minimum  value for many years (since 2007). Slightly more than 228 thousand people, 99% of whom are Ukrainian citizens, had the status of temporary asylum which is greatly facilitated (in terms of state obligations) in comparison with refugee status. The Civic Assistance Committee wrote repeatedly that the institution of asylum in Russia is not working properly. The reasons are numerous: from various and sometimes  fastidious obstacles which asylum seekers usually face when trying to file an application for refugee status recognition to the barriers imposed on the way to exercise the right to appeal denials. But, obviously, the main reason is political attitude. Russian state migration services are able to recognize significant groups of refugees at personal instruction from above as it happened with citizens from two eastern regions of Ukraine. But when there is no such instruction, state migration services can arbitrarily deny any kind of refuge, for instance, for pregnant women and children from Aleppo or a Korean who fled tortures in North Korea.  In the latter case, only the help of the public and civic society made it possible to obtain a review of the decision. The system of asylum in Russia was described in details in the report Russia as a country of asylum, published by Civic Assistance Committee in 2015.

Below are some statistics for 2016. But it should be noted that statistics on migration situation in Russia, provided by the state bodies, which have always been very scarce and limited became even less detailed in 2016. As a matter of fact, there is no data on refugees except the number of registered persons in the beginning of each quarter as well as their distribution by region and by age. The information on the number of applicants as well as the transcript of all countries of origin is no more available not to mention the publication of other data like the number of first-time applicants or the number  of positive decisions after appealing asylum denials. At the same time, there is no statistical information on refugees in the section of the Directorate General for Migration of the Ministry of Internal Affair of the Russian Federation; the data mentioned above is published by the Federal State Statistics Service.

The fact is that in April 2016 the Federal Migration Service was abolished. Someone breathed a sigh of relief. It was difficult to imagine tougher and sometimes even cruel attitude to people. There were no serious adaptation programs of any kind; K.O. Romodanovskiy, the head of the Federal Migration Service, is remembered for his struggle with so-called “illegal migrants” and for boasting about expelling 3 thousand people from the country every day. We wrote repeatedly about gross violations in expulsion procedures and prepared the report Administrative Expulsion from Russia: Court Proceedings or Mass Expulsion?. Although in general expulsion concerns migrant workers, state migration services regularly try to apply this procedure to refugees. As a result, FMS work did not lead to any achievement in programs  for refugees and labor migrants adaptation .

Nevertheless, 2016 demonstrated that the situation in respect of refugee status recognition continues to deteriorate although it would seem that it can not be worse. As of January 1, 2017, there were only 598 owners of this status in the country. The number of temporary asylum status owners sharply decreased as well.

Table 1. Distribution of refugees and temporary asylum owners by countries of former residence (according to the Federal State Statistics Service).

It should be recalled that foreign citizens seeking asylum claim to receive:

  • Refugee status which corresponds to the Convention on the Status of Refugees (although with important reservations, which was analyzed in detail in the report “Russia as a country of asylum”).
  • Temporary asylum status which is granted to those who, according to migration services, do not have grounds to obtain refugee status, but the state decides to give them protection for humanitarian or other reasons.

The special status of political asylum still exists on paper, the basis of which is the Order of the President of the Russian Federation of July 21, 1997, No. 746. Moreover, on paper, this status sometimes gives signs of life, which is reflected in the amendments to it, made in 2012. People defend doctoral dissertations and write articles on the right for political asylum in Russia. The issue is discussed in universities. The only problem is that according to available information this status was granted to one person or to nobody at all. Thus, in 2008 according to the head of the FMS press service, at that moment this status had never been granted to anyone for all 10 years of its existence. There is no information that the situation has somehow changed since then.

Temporary asylum in 2016

The status of temporary asylum is a kind of a ‘light version’ of refugee status. The Russian migration authorities withdraws from itself significant share of responsibility for social assistance and puts a person in the state of disturbing uncertainty as temporary asylum is granted for the period up to one year, and already 30 days prior to the date of expiry a person must initiate again the procedure and anxiously wait for unpredictable response of migration services. The latter  often refuse to extend temporary asylum status without any understandable reasons. Decisions to deny granting or extending the status can be appealed but it means entering a lengthy procedure without guarantees of success, during which a person finds himself in a semi-legal position without the right to work. There is no doubt, temporary asylum is better than nothing. It saves lives and health of people who face serious threats when returning to the country of origin. But the obligations of the Russian state services in regard to people with this status are minimal. In fact, they are simply allowed to stay in Russia for some time without any serious assistance in adaptation or improvement of their situation.

At the same time, before the onset of the bloody conflict in two eastern regions of Ukraine granting of temporary asylum was also extremely rare. A sharp surge in 2014 was due to the decree, adopted at the highest level of the Russian government, on granting temporary asylum to all Ukrainian citizens from those two regions who applied for this status. It is no coincidence that they were 99% of all owners of temporary asylum status at the end of 2016 – early 2017.

Figure 1. Number of persons who received and had the status of temporary asylum in the Russian Federation at the end of the year from 2004 to 2016 (according to the Federal Migration Service of Russia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation).

But if not to take into account the data on Ukrainian citizens it turns out that at the end of 2016 only 2348 citizens of other countries had temporary asylum in Russia. This number is record low since 2008.

Figure 2. Number of people who had the status of temporary asylum in the Russian Federation at the end of the year from 2009 to 2016 without taking into account data on Ukrainian citizens (according to the data of the Federal Migration Service of Russia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation).

Refugee status in 2016

As for the official refugee status the work of reorganized migration services was marked by negative values. The new Directorate General for Migration of the Ministry of Internal Affair of the Russian Federation managed to establish two lowest records at once: on the number of refugee status owners which is  598, the lowest since 2007 and on the number of refugees, recognized during the year, 39 refugees since the time when the publication of statistics on this quantity began. The last lowest record may be referred to the whole history of the institution of asylum in the Russian Federation.

Figure 3. Number of people who received and had refugee status in the Russian Federation at the end of the year from 2009 to 2016 (according to the Federal Migration Service of Russia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation).

After the late 90s of the last century the number of official refugee status owners decreased hundreds of times, falling from 240,000 at the end of 1997 to 598 at the end of 2016 (a reduction of 400 times!). From 2008 to 2015 the number of refugee status owners in Russia had fluctuated between 700 and 800 (excluding 2013). But in 2016 the number of refugee status owners decreased sharply and amounted to 598 people. State migration services granted refugee status to Ukrainian citizens very relunctantly and, apparently, only to chosen ones. Thus, in 2014 241 Ukrainians obtained this status, although 5789 Ukraininan citizens filed applications.

Figure 4. Number of persons who had refugee status in the Russian Federation at the end of the year from 1997 to 2016 (according to the Federal Migration Service of Russia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation)

If not to take into account the data on Ukrainian refugees with official status, the number of status owners from other countries has been decreasing for the last 6 years, reaching another lowest record in 2016, 410 people. This is due to a number of reasons, the Civic Assistance Committee repeatedly wrote about them. For instance, due to the fact that Syrian refugees have not been granted refugees status during the whole period of the conflict, except for one citizen. (It would be very interesting to learn the name and destiny of the latter as well as how he managed to obtain this status). In total, since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011 more than 2,000  were able to apply for refugee status (despite the fact that migration authorities create all kind of obstacles and sometimes simply refuse to register applicants). All of them (except one citizen) received denials (another Syrian citizen had refugee status prior to the start of the conflict).

Figure 5. The number of persons who had refugee status in the Russian Federation at the end of the year from 2009 to 2016 without taking into account the data on Ukrainian citizens (according to the data of the Federal Migration Service of Russia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation)

At the same time, according to the Federal State Statistics Service at the end of 2016 in more than fifty regions of Russia not a single refugee was registered with migration authorities. Thus, in all Far Eastern Federal District (9 regions) only 6 persons were registered with migration services, in the Ural Federal District (7 regions) 4 persons, in the immense Siberian Federal District  (12 regions) there were no refugees at all.

Russia and Malta

If you ask Russians to show Malta, the smallest country of the European Union, on the world map, then, probably, many people will find it difficult to do this without a clue. The population of Russia (about 146 million people) is 340 bigger than that of Malta (about 430 thousand people) and the territory of this European country is 54,194 times smaller than that of the biggest country in the world. But what is remarkable is that in 2016 Malta recognized 165  refugees that is, they took responsibility in relation to those people in accordance with the Convention on the Status of Refugees, and Russia recognized 39 people that is four times less. In other words, if Russia recognized refugees in proportion to Malta then, if we consider the population, the number of refugees, recognized by Russia should be 56 thousand people. If we take the GDP indicator (Russia’s GDP is about 200 times greater than that of Malta) then the number of recognized refugees in 2016 should be 33 thousand people. The fact that Russia has recognized four times less refugees that the smallest country in the European Union is another Russia’s lowest record.

Even if we take the totality of persons who have been granted refugee status and additional humanitarian status, which is called temporary asylum in Russia, then in Malta at the end of 2016 the number of owners of both statuses was 7,948 people. If we multiply this number by the difference between the population of Malta and that of Russia then it turns out that at the end of 2016 there should have been 2 million 700 thousand refugees and temporary asylum status owners (and not 229 thousand as it really is); if we multiply by the difference in GDP then this number should have been about 1 million 590 thousand people.

Picture 2. The ratio of the actual number of refugee and temporary asylum status owners in Russia, and the number taken in proportion to the number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Malta (at the end of 2016)

So, let’s sum up Russian abysmal records in 2016:

  • 2,348 people, or the minimum number of temporary asylum status owners among citizens of other countries since 2008, if not to take into account the data on asylum status owners from Ukraine;
  • 598 people, or the minimum number of all refugee status owners since 2007;
  • 39 people, or the minimum number of refugees, recognized during the year;
  • 410 people, or the minimum number of refugee status owners among citizens of other countries since 2006, without taking into account data on refugees from Ukraine;
  • The number of recognized refugees is four times less than in the smallest country of the European Union.

The authority of the state at the international level should be demonstrated not by the abundance of cannons and weapons of mass destruction, but by the willingness to help people in trouble regardless of their skin color, social status or citizenship. To take full responsibility for safety and well-being of refugees on its territory. To be committed to the idea of human rights and to be integrated into the world community. It is obvious that Malta is much stronger than Russia considering these characteristics.

By Konstantin Troitsky, Civic Assistance Committee