The Story of a Chechen Refugee From His Diary
Isa was trying in vain to obtain a residence permit in Poland for 12 years. He learned Polish, made friends and studied here. Still, Poland did not want him. Marcin Wojciechowski reports a story of a Chechen refugee.
From Isa Abubakarov’s diary:
I reached Brussels, where I asked for asylum for the first time. I could no longer stay in Poland, because I was refused the permanent residence permit. Before leaving, I went to the Ministry of the Interior to ask for political asylum. A considerate person told me that I was to be deported and advised me to leave the country.
In Belgium, I was welcomed very politely. I received the so-called ANEX [a temporary document] and was given a place to stay at the centre. Excellent treatment and everything for people: a PC, fitness, TV room, a bicycle, lessons of the Flemish language, good food and a social assistant. I was also provided with health care and a public transport ticket. I felt a man in every sense of the word. But, until one day only.
During my last but one interview [talk to the immigration officer], they put an annotation “Dublin” in my ANEX document and are intensely looking for my tracks in Poland. After a few attempts, Poland agrees to provide me with all the necessary assistance and protection within its territory, in accordance with the EU standards. I confessed that I studied in Poland between 1998 and 2000. I also told them that I was earlier in the West (the Netherlands and Belgium), but that I did not ask for asylum in any of those countries. Under the Dublin Convention, this means that I will be sent to Poland, being the first safe country on my way and a place where I can apply for asylum.
You all know what Belgian climate is like.. There is a film titled “Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad”. At first, I thought it was the specific Belgian climate, but later I was taken ill more and more frequently. After pneumonia, suspicion of tuberculosis and thorough tests, doctors made their diagnosis: I was suffering from two serious contagious diseases. Infectious jaundice, type C, was one of them. I was provided with medicines at hand, while treatment was planned to start on 9 June, at the Tropical Institute in Antwerp.
My last interview. They call me in the afternoon. I am not considering deportation; however, the social assistant gives me all doctors’ certificates, as if she knew that they are to deport me. The letter reads that I cannot be deported until I have completed my medical tests. I know that something is wrong. I get some papers to sign, but I don’t do that. I mention the doctor’s certificate. I hope I still have a few days ahead.
A female official tells me during the interview that Poland is to provide me with all the medical and social assistance I need and that I have to go back to Poland.
I am helpless. I do not have a lawyer. They take me to the deportation centre in Bruges. The deportation date is set for 2 June. I have the right to a 10-minute phone call. I call the Vice-President of the Chechen Diaspora. Her intervention makes them postpone the date of my deportation until 14 June.
I get the number of a free lawyer who does not care about me, as he is to get paid anyway. I get worried, because I can’t get in touch with him. After a few days, only after I threatened to take another one, the lawyer’s assistant arrives to see me. He was worse then the interviewers. The lawyer receives doctors’ analyses from me. Time flies and nothing changes. I can’t complain about the deportation centre itself. Everything is for people, as usual. Even the guards are so kind that I do not feel confined to the house. The doctor says that he will try to help me, but he can’t do much. He can make me an appointment with a specialist for 17 June at the earliest, while the deportation is planned for 14 June. I feel hopeless. The friends – guards tell me a secret: when I am to be deported for the first time, I can refuse to fly at the airport, and thus gain some time.
The guard very tactfully explains to me that I have to go now. He says he feels very sorry for me, but so is the policy. As suggested, I refuse deportation at the airport. All papers were prepared fast and I was sent back to the centre in Bruges. Doctors started preparations for the next flight. I visited a specialist who after subsequent examinations ordered immediate treatment.
They drive me to the airport again. Although I am taken under escort, guards remain kind all the time, which I really admire. The doctor carefully prepared a special case for medicines to be kept in during the flight. He packed the remaining antibiotic dose and made a note: NEED TREATMENT IN POLAND. I received the last tablet from the policeman on the plane after breakfast.
At about eight in the morning, I was handed over to the Polish Border Guards. They take away my medicines. Time is passing. I demand my medicines No reaction. I start to make a fuss. After a long time, they lead me handcuffed across the airport. People gawk at me, as if I were a terrorist who did not manage to blow up a plane. The doctor ignores the Belgian analyses. He takes my blood pressure and declares that I don’t need any medicines. I give up, because no one listens to me. I have never been so humiliated all my life. The interrogator, who apparently wants to help me, sends me to a camp near Okęcie for 48 hours; sorry, but I cannot call it otherwise.
For the first time, they remind me that I am not a man. I am Chechen. I am a criminal, and not a foreigner. It occurs that in a democratic country you can be addressed in a racist way and treated in a communist-like manner. They ask me about everything apart from my condition, they force me to strip naked and crouch down in front of them. Finally, they lead me to my cell. There, a policeman brings me a grey blanket and throws it at the door. When asked about a pillow and bed linen, he answered me back: “You have the blanket, don’t you?” And when I replied that I wasn’t an animal, he said: “An animal is given hey and a kennel. You got a blanket, instead.” These forty eight hours in the cell seemed to last 48 years. I had to ask them for everything: to go the toilet or for a walk, even to have a smoke.
Next morning, they throw to my cell some old bread, some butter just to spread over a half of the slice and some coloured water. No walk. I sit in the cell. At lunch, they order me to leave the cell and get it myself. When I see what they prepared for me, I freeze. A young female guard shouted at me: “What are you staring at? Take it and get lost!”. I told her off asking who gave her the right to address an older person like that. I called her snotty-nose brat . I asked her who brought her up to be such a swine and said that she should not work with people. She replied that I was to have problems and started to threaten me. I take my lunch and go to my cell. In a moment, a duty officer stops by it. He threatens me that he will pour the soup over my head. He raises his hand, as if he wanted to hit me. “Just try. I know my rights”, I say. He hesitates and replies: “I do not beat faggots…” To punish me, he forbade me to go for a walk and have a smoke.
48 hours pass. I go back to the airport. There they put me into a small cell, where I can’t breathe. I have to fight for food or smoke again. Formalities seem to last forever. At noon, they take me to the court. After a brief reading of the description prepared by my pseudo friend from the Border Guards, the judge reads the verdict. The decision is that I am to be put in the prison & deportation centre for foreigners in Lesznowola. This is the centre for the people who broke the law during their stay in Poland; for instance, for those who crossed the border illegally, as I did. The judge does not consider the fact that my sister lives in Warsaw and that I could stay at her’s until my application for the refugee status has been reviewed by the Office for Repatriation and Foreigners. He also ignores the fact that during my 14-year stay in Poland I have never broken the law.
I learn once more that you can treat people worse than animals. They bugger up my bags again, although they were already searched before the trip. They give me place in a room and order to pull a heavy leather mattress upstairs. I get a registration number: 207/06. Next day, I go to the doctor, which I demanded from the very beginning. But there is no doctor available. A nurse takes my pressure and puts down the diseases diagnosed in Belgium which I tell her about. She orders me to come in the afternoon, when the doctor has arrived. 2 p.m.. The doctor doesn’t take my side. I mention the medicines. He ignores me. I mention my condition. No reaction, no question about jaundice.
Time flies. I no longer pay attention to the racist and fascist backchat. The bitter cup is overflown when during the meal – that could hardly be eaten anyway – something gets stuck in my throat. I’m in the utmost distress. I can neither vomit nor swallow. I demand a doctor, but he does not come. Three or four hours pass. I suffer. I call my sister in Warsaw to save me. She calls the emergency ambulance service unit that the centre co-operates with. My condition gets worse and worse. After seven hours and my sister’s intervention, they take me in the police car to the hospital in Grójec, wherefrom I am sent to the Province Specialist Hospital in Radom. After an X-ray, about 1 a.m., they make a surgery under anaesthetic. Diagnosis: a foreign body in the oesophagus. Next day, I am on a diet – only liquids and drips. After a six-day stay at the hospital, they drive me in a police car back to the centre. Outside, the temperature is above 29 degrees. It is well over 40 in the car.
The doctor takes no interest in meeting me. No one pays attention to the fact that I should be on a diet. Another few days pass. I decide to fight for my rights of a man for the last time. I take all my analyses made in Belgium and go to see the doctor. I have not shown them earlier, as the fact of my illness was reported.
My fever is going up and up. I ask them to give me back the Belgian antibiotic. The doctor browses through the analyses and asks me what is written there. I respond that he is a doctor and that he should know Latin. As a result, the doctor has a complex and treats me even worse. I’m left alone with my disease. My condition deteriorates. I am shivering and have a fever of 40 degrees. I report to the policemen. They say they will tell the duty officer about it. They order me to go to the doctor’s office the following morning. My fellows try to reduce the temperature, but the cold compresses placed on my forehead do not help.
I ask for some febrifuge, but the policemen start to bargain over it – we will give it to you or not. Finally, a duty officer brings me 2 Codipar tablets. My condition does not improve. Saturday and Sunday pass. I fight for febrifuge tablets. There is no doctor or nurse at weekends. I don’t ask for anything else than one tablet.
As the fever has not gone down, they drive me to the hospital in Grójec. There, they take my blood sample and lung X-rays. A policeman keeps me handcuffed. He talks to me, as if I were a dog and pushes me all the time. The doctor is more interested in the Basayev’s death than my disease. He says that the doctor at the centre will tell me everything.
We come back to Lesznowola. Next morning, I am taken a blood sample again. At last, they conclude that I suffer from jaundice, which I have been trying to tell them from the very beginning. The policemen and guards are shocked. The panic that the centre is plague-stricken spreads across the house. They move me to an isolation cell. They ostentatiously put on rubber gloves and lock me. Employees panic that I will infect them. I demand to speak to the manager. They tell me that I have to write a relevant application. I ask them about the grounds on which they locked me and they say that because of my illness they have to limit my contacts with others.
The centre is disinfected. I get febrifuge tablets and an antibiotic. One day, a nurse gives me medicines for four days in advance. She says that she is going on vacation and that nobody will come to me then.
After a few days, they take me to the hospital in Kozienice to the isolation ward. Before I leave they tell me to fold the bed linen and bring down the mattress. A technical employee stands nearby and mocks me saying how I should fold the sheets. I get angry and throw the stuff at his feet. It is him to get the money and not me, after all.
At the ward, a polite female doctor and a kind nurse comes to see me. I find myself in a completely different world. I ask them why they brought me here. The doctor replies that they will treat me for fever and that they have two days to do that. I comment that I suffer from other diseases as well and that two days are not enough. She says that they do not cure them here and that she is not aware of my other diseases. I ask her to drive me back to the centre. I am put in the isolation cell once more. They lock me, but I do not protest. I am too weak.
In the morning, I fight for being let to go to the bathroom. I want to go for a walk to breathe some fresh air, but a policeman refuses.
No sensational news. A morning walk alone. A nurse brings me the last two antibiotic tablets. I contacted the Red Cross. I also wrote a few complaints to the centre manager and the head of the Ministry of the Interior. I was sent a response, whereby I was informed that the complaints would be handled by the Province Police Headquarters in Radom. There is still some hope. I do not know what’s going on. My lunch is served with style, as for a man. They have even brought me a fork. Maybe someone of importance is to come. I wonder why, if I pose a danger to others.I was given a neighbour to my isolation cell. Maybe they do not consider him a man either, as not only is he a Gypsy, but comes from Kaliningrad as well. Now and then, I hear that they cannot transport me to the hospital and back all the time, as the budget of the Ministry of the Interior is scarce. Another policeman shouts at me that I shouldn’t make enemies any more.
Isa Abubakarov was born on 14.11.1966 in Chechnya. He came to Poland 14 years ago. It was two years before the first war outbreak in Chechnya. He didn’t want to live in Russia, as he was interested in the world and a better life. At that time, there was a regular bus from Grozny to Warsaw every week. The salesmen from the 10th Anniversary Stadium were the primary travellers. Isa tried to get the permanent residence permit in Poland, but was refused notoriously. For a long time, he did not want to apply for the refugee status. He was underlining that he was not a refugee, but that he just wanted to live in Poland. Isa was filing applications for permanent residence permit with the Province Governor and was receiving refusals. He was lodging appeals and so on. A few years ago, you could go on like that forever without breaking the law. It was so before the Poland’s accession to the EU. At that time, we were bound by non-visa traffic with Russia. Every three months, Isa went to Belorussia, crossed the border and, after a while, was coming back to Poland legally for the subsequent three months.
He was working as a massage therapist. He must have been good, because he had many clients in Warsaw. He learned to speak fluent Polish and made many Polish friends. The latter is not typical for the refugees who find it most troublesome to integrate with the country they come to. A few years ago, Isa graduated from a special school for massage therapists at the rehabilitation centre in Konstancin. He prided himself on studying in Poland.
After the war outbreak in Chechnya, he gathered that he had not reason whatsoever to go back. He applied for the refugee status in Poland, but was refused by reference to his earlier explanations that he did not come to Poland as a refugee but to find a better life. When the war in Chechnya died down a bit, Isa went short trips over there. He went to his parents’ funeral, for example. This made the Polish officials believe that he did not deserve the refugee status, and thus his subsequent appeals were rejected one after one.
At the end of the last year, Isa finally learned that if he did not leave Poland, he would be deported. Desperate, he took his friend’s passport and left for Belgium. This is how he broke the law. He decided to apply for asylum there and bring to the West his sister who was living in Warsaw and who lost her husband during the war. Isa’s sister has the refugee status in Poland. She works and brings up an adopted daughter – a war orphan from Chechnya she decided to save – on her own. Last year, the kid started to address Isa as her “Daddy”.
In June, Belgium sent Isa to Poland, under the so-called Dublin Convention. Before the trip, he was diagnosed as having a severe form of jaundice. It was stated that he needed urgent treatment. In Poland, he was put into the refugee centre in Lesznowola for the illegal leave of our country. The said centre is beyond control of the Office for Repatriation and Foreigners. As a majority of refugee centres, it is within the jurisdiction of the Province Police Headquarters in Radom. Lesznowola centre has an awful reputation among the non-governmental organisations dealing with refugees. Hindered access of prisoners to doctors is one of the recurring arguments. It is not clear why the court, aware of his serious illness, sent Isa to Lesznowola.
Isa describes his gruesome stay at the centre in his diary. He says that he was treated badly there, that he was humiliated, discriminated and deprived of any doctor’s help. “I am surprised that Belgians let a person in such a serious condition leave their country”, tells “Gazeta” Jan Węgrzyn, the Director of the Office for Repatriation and Foreigners. At the same time, he spreads his arms helplessly, as the Lesznowola is outside his jurisdiction. It is controlled by the police.
Isa wrote complaints and appeals. He argued about his rights, which often led him to trouble instead of benefits. At last, following his intervention, he was released from Lesznowola towards the end of summer. He went to live with his sister in Warsaw. Nevertheless, he was so ill that he died after a few weeks. “I flipped through Isa’s dossier after his death”, says Director Węgrzyn. “He had a good chance of obtaining the tolerated stay at least, be it not the refugee status.”
We ran short of a few days, weeks maybe. “This is because Isa never knew how to beg or demean himself. He was proud and he rebelled”, says a Polish friend of his. Isa’s diary notes enabled me to retrace his experiences after deportation from Belgium. Isa filed complaints about bad treatment in Lesznowola with everyone possible. In summer, the Ministry of the Interior and Administration referred them to the Province Police Headquarters in Radom. I asked their spokesperson whether they were reviewed, whether they were considered legitimate and whether any of the centre employees was punished. He promised to check it. I am still waiting for his response.
Only because his friends paid for the transport of his corpse to Russia, Isa was buried at the cemetery in Grozny. It took much time, however, to convince the Consul of the Russian Federation to deal with the bureaucratic red tape so that the coffin could be transported.
Gazeta Wyborcza / 10.11.2006