Saturday, February 7, 2015

Ukrainian Refugee Crisis

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - 'Sweet talk' is how one refugee, 'Olga', succinctly summed up what she

thought of the standard attitude of most Russian government officials to refugees fleeing war weary stricken Ukraine. 'I have no good news to tell you,' she informed me in a rather depressed mood. 'Olga' ought to know! She, with her family, were forced to literally run  from Ukraine last summer. Despite all the wonderful rhetoric of how benevolent officials
and aid workers are assisting refugees, the real picture which emerges is far more complex. It is a story filled with rampant corruption, crime, indiffference, abuse of desperate people as well as some genuine acts of  concern shown by simple Russians. For instance, despite
the fact that registration with the local authorities is free of charge and mandatory under Russian law, officials charged Olga a huge sum of 3000 rubles for provisional period of residence. And that is only the beginning! Soulless  officials will ask for yet another and
another fee. Olga is not even a migrant but a refugee forced to escape from constant bombing raids in Donetsk. Olga has to endure not only poverty and lingering anxiety about the fate of her relatives and friends in Ukraine but petty, persistent and pathetique red tape.
It is absurd when you reflect on the bizarre logic. It is like being charged to use an air-raid centre during heavy bombardment. Instead of seeing the arrival of refugees as part of a humanitarian disaster which demands a resolute response those officials only see refugees as another lucrative source of income. If this is not bad enough, the Russian government has just recently passed stricter migration laws which experts believe, will make the plight of refugees far worse.


The new migration law, which was passed by the Duma last year, means that if a migrant illegally stays beyond his visa for a period of 280 days or more, he will be banned from returning to Russia for ten years. Officials from the Russian Federal Migration are at pains to point out this law won't affect refugees. However, given the response of officials to some refugees, a more tolerant attitude to them seems doubtful. What it also means is that migrants and refugees without any legal status will be forced to leave Russia after a period of 90 days!

According to the some experts, as many as 300,000 refugees are living in Russia without any legal residental rights and would therefore be under legal obligation to leave Russia or face fines, deportation and if some get their way, imprisonment. According to the statistics
of the F.M.S., by the end of 2014, only 486,000 from 831 000 refugees had obtained some form of legal status. Vyachslav Postnin of the fund called 'Migration 21st century believes that such legislation will further complicate matters for refugees as 'the new rules seriously complicate their lives' and will adversely affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees'. The question remains open. What will the police do when they stop and detain a refugee who has overstayed or lacks a visa?

Would they deport them back to the war zone? If the law is literary enforced it would mean deporting a refugee back to a war zone where he has to endure being bombed, shot at and starved for ten years!

After ten years he can come back and have another go at attaining refugee status. It might not be that long but the war is proving protracted .


According to the one statement from the Ukrainian state, there have been as many as 3400 violations of the peace accord from the 6th of September 2014. This statement was made a few months ago so the number of violations must exceed 5000. A violation is no longer
news  but a mundane everyday event. Hardly a day goes by without some shelling or gunfire which kills peaceful citizens. For instance, two school boys were machine-gunned down while playing football in a playing field, a bus was brutally caught in gunfire where as many as a dozen or more passengers died and many children have been turned into invalids due to horrific injuries...

One refugee from Luhansk told one of my students in Moscow how terrible it is to live under bombardment. 'Your are under cover and you hear this shell whistling in the sky, then there is a dreadful silence where you don't know where this shell is going to land on you. After
this experience you don't give a damn about politics but just long for peace. It is only when you have lived through this experience that you can truly understand it. The fear is terrible'. His vivid description made a great impression on my student, Alexandr.

As the Ukrainian government has completely withdrawn welfare benefits, many pensioners and others face dreadful starvation. As many as 40 old people may have starved to death in the Luhansk district. 

Such reports seem incredible and beyond belief in modern Europe but if you have no source of income or any aid then it becomes explicable. Many of the convoys which have been carrying aid to the Ukraine, from Russia, are either arriving too late, or their provisions are not being distributed. Ugly rumours are in the air that this food is ending up on the black market. The cossacks, are known to be incensed by those reports and after insisting local officials fairly distribute this food to the needy, have fallen out with them. The officials have rebuffed their decent requests. The cossacks ask, 'Are we fighting a war to support this terrible injustice?' Local people who have asked for food from some local officials have been ignored, rejected or fobbed off with poor excuses.

So despite sweet words of humanitarian convoys and assistance, local people in Donbass are at times starving, being deprived of heat, electricity, water, decent medical care and the right to live in a safe and secure environment. If they try to flee to Russia they might face the brunt of harsh migration laws. Could the dire predicament of locals and refugees get any worse?

Many Thanks to Kommersant Journalist Aleksandr Chernikh for useful statistics on refugees (see Kommersant article , 14th Jan 2015 Ukrainians are left with numbered days, FM, 93,6 in Russian )

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