23.10.2021

Political Asylum in Europe

Leaving Russia is better not in the hope of becoming a political refugee, human rights activists say. The European bureaucracy is coping worse and harder with the influx of applications, so it’s better to immediately look for work or come to study. Ali Feruz is so worried that she loses her voice and falls silent. A deathly silence hangs in the hall, in a glass booth behind him, the translator fights with emotions. A couple of seconds pass and the young journalist, who fled first from Uzbekistan to Russia, and then received refugee status in Germany, finds the strength to continue his story – the story of the torture he was subjected to at home. The fact that he still managed to leave Russia and go to Germany, Feruz says this: “I was very lucky.”

Better to be a student than a refugee

While the world community, with bated breath, is watching a wedding in the British royal family, in the center of Berlin, about 50 human rights activists and civic activists gathered at a round table on a much less glamorous issue – refugees from Russia and the right to asylum. It takes place as part of the conference “Human Rights, Freedom, Justice”, dedicated to the memory of Russian lawyer Yuri Schmidt and organized jointly by the Open Russia and the Berlin Center for Liberal Modernity (Zentrum Liberale Moderne).

The general refrain of more than two hours of discussion boils down to the not very optimistic conclusion: before applying for asylum in Europe, everyone should think about whether he can leave Russia on some other pretext – to work or to study. Therefore, the European bureaucratic machine is extremely overloaded, officials have less time to delve into the details, and the refusal to grant refugee status can greatly complicate the future fate of the applicant. However, a positive decision is connected with restrictions – in many countries it is forbidden to hire people with refugee status, and the state benefit is extremely small.

The relevance of the discussion has become even more evident against the background of very recent events. This week, Czech authorities denied a long-term visa to journalist and dissident Grigory Pasko, who was convicted of high treason in 2001 and declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

“There is no single approach to refugees in Europe”

According to Jenny Kurpen, who escaped from Moscow in 2012 due to “swamp case” accusations, Europe does not have a unified approach to asylum applications from Russian dissidents, and national laws change, as do moods in individual countries, influenced by the influx refugees and strengthening the political positions of right-wing populists.

A concrete example is the countries of Scandinavia, which used to be considered the best place in Europe for obtaining refugee status, Kurpen says. Now, there, the attitude towards left activists has changed so much that she does not recommend pronouncing the word “anarchist” in conversations with officials in general. Kurpen closed her human rights organization, registered in Finland – she had no chance to get at least some funding. Moreover, she was given to understand that assistance to asylum seekers is seen as aiding illegal migration, the activist said.

Left-wing activist Filipp Galtsov, a defendant in the “swamp business” who fled from Russia and received political asylum in Sweden, says that even in a well-functioning Swedish system, more and more flaws have recently appeared – lost asylum applications, demotivated lawyers and refugee camp workers, who openly ignore the everyday problems of the guests.

“Infernal incompetence and rudeness”, – this is how Galtsov describes his attitude towards applicants for political refugee status in Sweden. He gives as an example the story of a Chechen who was denied refugee status in Sweden. He was deported from the country and killed two months later in Chechnya. “We made a mistake,” Galtsov quotes the reaction of the Swedish authorities to this monstrous incident.

Asylum chances are minimal

According to lawyer Johanna Kühne, representing the law office of Balcin, Künne, von Harbou, Russia is today among the top ten countries in terms of the number of applications for refugee status in Germany. The vast majority of applicants, according to the lawyer, are from the North Caucasus. Their chances of success are minimal – approximately one out of ten refugees receives a positive response. She also advises those who want to leave Russia and start a new life in Europe, first look for other opportunities – to go to school or work.

Experts who spoke at the round table agreed: the quality of decisions of officials on the issue of granting refugee status is rapidly declining, and the procedure itself is becoming more and more like a lottery. The state apparatus in Germany has been overwhelmed by the influx of migrants into the country since 2015, officials have neither the strength nor the time to delve into the details of whether, for example, a tax audit (a favorite tool of Russian officials) is caused by political motives or not.

“Colossal pressure on the migration system”

Summing up the discussion, the former Bundestag deputy from the Soyuz-90 / Greens party, Marie-Louise Beck, drew the attention of Russian guests to the “tremendous” pressure that the migration system in Germany is experiencing due to the huge jump in numbers appeals since 2015. According to her, those wishing to obtain refugee status in Germany must bear in mind two fundamental points. Firstly, the peculiarities of German laws, according to which only one who has entered Germany directly and not through a democratic state of the EU can apply for asylum – be it Poland or Finland. The German authorities automatically send such applicants to where they crossed the border of the European Union.

And secondly, Beck says that not every applicant really deserves refugee status – there are many Islamists among those who are trying to get to Europe through the eye of German laws. The times when the Bundestag deputies together with Memorial activists gave lectures on the situation in Chechnya to officials of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, have sunk into oblivion – officials have no more time for this.

In Libya, over a hundred people fled from an illegal refugee camp

In Libyan camps for illegal migrants, the conditions in which are similar to prison ones, thousands of people are held. Refugees are often tortured and bullied there. In Libya, more than a hundred people fled from an illegal refugee camp in which they were forcibly detained by trafficking criminals. On Saturday, May 26, AFP reported with reference to the non-governmental international organization Doctors Without Borders.

The camp was located in the city of Beni Walid in the west of the country, through which passes the migration route to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.

When trying to escape, 15 people were killed, another 25 were injured. About 20 refugees went to the hospital complaining of injuries sustained as a result of torture.

Criminals kept migrants in the camp in the hope of receiving financial rewards from their relatives. In some cases, the captives were in captivity for more than three years. Most of them were citizens of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

Human rights defenders report torture

In Libyan camps for illegal migrants, the conditions in which are similar to prison ones, thousands of people are held. Most of them arrived in Libya from other African countries, but there are immigrants from Asia, in particular from Pakistan. Human rights activists criticize such special detention centers, where, according to their information, migrants are subjected to torture and bullying.

In the coming months, Germany will accept about 300 refugees from such camps.

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