The expert contributors to this essay collection describe an extremely challenging situation for political and NGO activists, along with other at-risk people from the former Soviet Union (FSU) who are trying to claim asylum or get temporary refuge from persecution. In the face of rising populism and the continuing pressures of the Mediterranean migrant crisis it is becoming even harder for activists from the region to get protection.
The publication notes with concern the wildly variable asylum acceptance rates across different European countries for applicants coming from the same former Soviet Union countries. It shows that some states are deliberately allowing onward transit to neighbouring countries who are more willing to offer asylum, and that for example Poland is preventing large numbers of people from Tajikistan and Chechnya from crossing their border with Belarus to claim asylum.
The publication raises concern about the increased use of ‘safe third country’ (where people are returned to the country they transited through) and ‘internal protection alternative’ (where people are told to move to supposedly safer areas of their country of origin) processes to return people to Russia or Belarus, where they may be at risk of being forcibly returned to their country of origin or face targeting from the Russian or Chechen security services. Where asylum applicants are identified as being at genuine risk they should not be made to return to Russia or Belarus, which cannot be trusted to give them protection. In relation to this, the UK and a number of other European countries need to play a more proactive role, directly working with Russian civil society groups to facilitate LGBTI Chechens to be able to claim asylum. Western countries also need to improve the ways in which they assess the risk faced by family members of activists who may be being targeted by their home regimes.
The publication also examines the deteriorating situation inside Russia for those from Central Asia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union who are trying to seek shelter from their home regimes. It explores the surprising continued cooperation between the Ukrainian and Russian security services over extraditions. It also investigates the way in which Crimean Tatars and other opponents of the Russian occupation of Crimea are being deported from the area.
Western nations and the international community should:
- Refrain from mandatory use of safe third country concepts for those deemed to be at risk in their country of origin. Russia and Belarus should not be considered safe third countries for citizens of other post-Soviet states.
- Resist the obligatory use of the internal protection alternative. It should not be applied in Russia, particularly not in relation to at-risk citizens from Russia’s North Caucasus republics such as Chechnya.
- Work with Russian NGOs to provided safe routes for LGBTI Chechens to receive asylum in the UK and other countries which are not yet providing direct support.
- Take appropriate measures to ensure people can apply for asylum at border crossings, with particular note to the Poland-Belarus border.
- Improve the ways in which they assess the risk to the family members of activists and look to provide additional opportunities for those under threat.
- Persist with efforts within INTERPOL to deliver on recently enacted reforms that restrict the ability of states in the former Soviet Union to use its mechanisms to harass opponents abroad.
- Work to ensure all Council of Europe member states fully abide by European Court of Human Rights rulings in relation to protection against refoulement (being returned to face persecution).
- Address deportations and the transfer of population from Crimea within resolutions and other human rights decisions, while looking at the use of enhanced sectoral and individual sanctions in relation to this issue.