Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ukrainian Crisis

Ukrainian Refugee Crisis Bewildering

Refugees arriving in Moscow are quickly discovering attaining refugee status is not so straightforward but bewildering.

By Stephen Wilson

Second City Teachers Moscow correspondent Stephen Wilson standing next to a Ukrainian refugee in Moscow. (Photo by Oksana Chebotareva) 

(Moscow, Russia) - 'Bordack' (disorder), is the word which springs to mind when observing the plight of many Russian refugees lining up to apply for refugee status in the   centre of Moscow. The offices of the Federal Migration services had been moved from Number 2 Pyanitskaya Street to a dusty and discrepit courtyard near an Orthodox church.

                When I arrived there was already a crowd of refugees of all ages and         backgounds; late middle-aged, four or five year old children and a young woman dressed in fashionable holed jeans. Many of the faces of the most sensitive souls seem anguished, disappointed and disenchanted.

                Many were clearly upset and showed signs of weeping. The scene was forlorn. A frail bent tree arched over the main entrance, as if bent down in some kind of prostration or prayer. Like the refugees, it too seemed weigned down by grief. It was on its last legs. With one violent gust of wind, it could whine, pine and totter down to the ground.

                Suddenly, a Federal Migration Service official was ushered out along with his assistants who placed a table and chair before the small crowd of refugees. He then began a lecture on how to go about applying for status as a refugee, how to obtain a migrant card, permission to work and where to obtain work.

                It was clear that the official was a kind and compassionate man who genuinely wanted to help the refugees and answer any question. This was a specialist who articulately explained what had to be done and how. For instance, to the question of obtaining official permission to work, he did not waffle on about needing 20 documents (as one lawyer suggested to the host of a refugee), but taking four steps; obtain registration, acquire a migration card, get a medical certificate confirming you are in sound health and a statement or proposed contract from a potential employer. He also suggested some addresses where they could obtain a migration card or assistance.

                He often explained this procedure again and again in case the listeners did not grasp it. He would offer the odd phone number where to get help.

                However, this did not satisfy the applicants. He faced an avalanche of questions. One young woman told him, 'They won't employ me without a prospeeska! (A stamp that guarantees you the right to reside, work and receive government services.)' Two middle-aged woman stated, 'The local authorities won't offer us registration'. The official answered, 'The hosts who are providing you with a place should help you with this. I suggest you seek out the help of volunteers.'

                The answer was revealing. It indicates that the Federal Migration Service is working with all kinds of volunteers to ease the situation of refugees.

                The official also handed out a special leaflet with addresses of local Federal Migration service offices within the surburbs in Moscow.

                He also made it clear that there were other places in Russia where the refugees could get work.

                Unfortunately, there were no application forms available for applying for status. The official took one application form from a refugee who had luckily got one and then told the crowd, 'This is how you should fill it in'. 

                'But we have not got any. Could you give us those forms?' the refugees said.

                The official could not provide them application forms. Either they had run out of them or had to print some more. 'Come back on Tuesday and we will see what we can do. But don't come on Monday. The whole office is flooded with applicants. We are attempting to encourage people to come on different days.'

                 I heard from one volunteer who has a friend who has worked a long time in the Russian civil service that, 'The Moscow Migration service will not be actively encouraging people to apply for refugee status in Moscow. They already have enough problems with other refugees from other countries and republics around the world. So they'll be encouraging people to go to other regions of Russia and apply for work.'

                 This certainly is the impression I got when I obtained the list of useful addresses which were handed out. Most addresses are outside Moscow.

                 A fundamental problem is that the Ukrainian refugee problem has not been entirely separated from other refugee problems, such as Africa and Syria. The Russian Federation holds the second place in the world as a destination for refugees. Non-Ukrainian refugees number approximately 38,000. In the space of four months in 2013 as many as 614 people applied for the status of refugee while 1,619 applied for refuge (they can come to Russia but will not receive official status), according to the Federal Migration   Service). Now those applications appear to be overshadowed by the huge flood of up to half a million refugees from Ukraine which is threatening to strain to the limits the application process. No wonder officials are attempting to persuade refugees to apply for status and work in other regions. A problem is that some officials in the suburbs have been sending refugees to Moscow because they claim, 'We don't have any specialists here. Go to Moscow!' When the refugees get to the central offices in Moscow, the officials suggest they go back or go to another place in Russia. It is certainly easy to apply for status in other cities and towns of Russia where the government has devoted more resources. Moscow might even be the worst place to apply for status. So many refugees are caught in a catch 22 situation. You can't get refugee status if you don't have residental rights, you can't get residential rights unless you already have special documents. A vast bureaucracy is still being encountered despite the fact that leading ministers are attempting to radically simplify the lengthy procedure of applying from 30 to just 3 days.

                 Becoming a refugee does not just mean a loss of work, home and place in society, but even your education. For despite the fact that the Russian Ministry of Education has made available 1500 extra places for students at two famous universities, refugees require to submit many documents they have lost or can't attain from the Ukraine. What can they do?

                 Risk returning to search among the rubble of bombed buildings in Lugansk to retrieve the vital documents? Some refugees will be saying to themselves, 'If only I had not dropped this bag with my passport while running for safety.' But should anyone be expected to risk their life for their passport?' It makes sense if you take to heart Maxim Gorky's claim, 'A man is nothing without his passport'.

                 According to Novaya Gazette, one refugee couple from Slavyansk were bitterly grieved to be told by an official at a university that, 'All free places by the government for a free education are already taken. We are not taking any more students from Ukraine.'

                 So official government announcements of how the government is taking full care of students who have lost their places at universities in Ukraine is mainly hype. But even 1500 free places represents only a drop in the ocean. So where can the refugees continue their education?

                 It is clear the Government must take more radical steps in financing and   actively supporting mass student entry programmes for Ukrainian refugees.

                 Where there are documents, students can take appropriate tests and fees for education should be waved aside.

                 This is after all an urgent national emergency and calls for a more flexible       response to the refugee problem. That means cutting red tape and not taking doing things by the book too literary. The old Russian saying 'The Law is the Law ' has to be creatively adapted or at times abandoned for humanitarian reasons.

                  The official at the federal migration service tried to ease the nerves of the refugees by pleading, 'Patience, patience and patience' and 'act calmly when you address workers in other offices'. 

                   He would crack the odd light joke to try and cheer up the refugees. By doing so he undermined an old Soviet proverb that, 'The Law doesn't have a sense of humour'. So evidently endurance, composure and a sense of humour might not go a miss!

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