Moscow now wrestling with the problems of its own non-citizens (1)
VIENNA — After more than 15 years of complaining about the status of those who did not qualify for citizenship in the Baltic states, Moscow is now having to deal with the problems arising from the fact that thousands of ethnic Russians do not have citizenship in the Russian Federation.
For the first time ever, the Russian Duma on June 17 conducted a roundtable about the problems of what some speakers said were tens of thousands of children of refugees, forced resettlers and migrants who now live in the Russian Federation but who do not have citizenship there.
The Russian legislature organized this discussion, deputy Vladimir Nikitin, the deputy chairman of the CIS Affairs Committee, said, because of the large number of letters of Russian “non-citizens” that had been sent to the Duma and to other government offices.
In each line of these letters, he said, there was a cry for help: “for my children born in Russia who for years have not been given certification of their birth” or “for my 18-year-old daughter who is forced to accept the citizenship of Uzbekistan where she lived before the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
Many of these children are not admitted to kindergartens or medical facilities because “by law, they do not have the right to study in Russian schools and universities or serve in the army. And even if they are admitted in spite of the law, they do not have the right to sit for the common state examination. That requires a passport.”
Nikitin said that the situation of such people had become much worse in 2002 when the Duma adopted a law on citizenship that annulled the passport of the former USSR. By that action, those who had been forced resettlers or refugees were converted into foreigners who did not have visas.
Some of those falling into this trap were deported, even if their parents or spouses were citizens of the Russian Federation, Nikitin said. And those subject to this punishment frequently have found themselves cut off from their families: the laws of many former Soviet republics do not allow such people to get visas for up to five years.
Those taking part in the Duma roundtable pointed to a variety of problems in this area. Lyudmila Lukashova, the head of the Urals Association of Refugees, for example, blamed many of the problems of these people on “the constantly changing laws” and “the high-handed approach” of officials involved in refugee work.
At the end of the roundtable session, the Duma deputies present proposed adopting new laws in order to rectify the situation, but activists like Lukashova argued that the more immediate task should be to force immigration officials to abide by existing legislation by removing the current leadership of the Federal Migration Service.
This acknowledgement by Russian officials that their legislation has created a class of non-citizens on the territory of the Russian Federation could prove to be far more important that many observers might be inclined to think.
On the one hand and most immediately, this admission could open the way to a far more open and fairer system of granting citizenship to those returning from the former Soviet republics, something that would seem to be entirely consistent with the demographic goals articulated by President Vladimir Putin.
And on the other, this acknowledgement could lead to new discussions between Moscow and the leaders of Estonia and Latvia about citizenship issues, dialogues that likely would be more fruitful than those in the past precisely because Russia has now acknowledged that its actions have also created a class of non-citizens.
Indeed, such an admission by Moscow in that context could mean that the European Union will again become involved in this issue, something that in recent years it has been reluctant to raise. In this way, an admission by Moscow could ultimately result in more pressure on Tallinn and Riga.