Fears Rising Over Fate of Two Refugees Wanted By Russia
Russia is pressing Ukraine for the extradition of two refugees. Although international law forbids Ukraine from sending them back, one has disappeared from a Kyiv detention center while the other was so severely beaten in custody he slipped into a coma.
One of the detainees, a former taxi driver from Ingushetia in Russia’s North Caucasus region, Magomet, whose last name “Kyiv Post” does not reveal because of security concerns, spent 14 months in Kyiv’s Lukyanivske pre-trial detention center. Wanted in Russia, he is not accused of any crime in Ukraine and has been recognized as a refugee by one of the Scandinavian states.
Magomet disappeared almost two weeks ago and, according to diplomatic sources, is now in Kharkiv, a usual stop for detainees being extradited to Russia
Ethnic Chechen Umar Abuyev also fears extradition to Russia.
On Aug. 3, he was severely beaten in the Lukyanivske pre-trial detention center. His lawyer is worried he could be sent back to Russia, despite a ruling by the European Human Rights Court banning Ukraine from extraditing him.
Unrest in the Northern Caucasus has forced thousands to flee. Although Russia claims most are bandits and terrorists, some 100,000 people have been recognized as refugees in European Union member states. Many settled in Turkey and other Muslim countries.
According to Eurostat, 18,000 Russians asked for asylum in 2011, making Russian second source of EU asylum-seekers, after war-torn Afghanistan.
A few have ended up in Ukraine, which recognized 103 Russian citizens, including 82 Chechens, as refugees, as of Jan. 1.
Most received this status up to the end of 2010, before Ukraine’s refugee policy changed for unexplained reasons. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, all 19 Russians applicants, six of them Chechen, were turned down in 2011.
Now 40 Chechens, one Ingush and two Dagestanis are waiting for government decisions on their cases.
A negative decision could mean abuse upon arriving back home. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles has voiced concerns about several extradition cases of Chechens, claiming they could face torture or simply disappear should they return.
Magomet’s application was turned down by Ukraine. In July, however, he was recognized as a refugee by one of the EU member states and was to be sent there.
But he may already be back in Russia, as neither his lawyer nor representatives of human rights organizations have heard from him since his disappearance from custody.
This is the first time in years that a recognized refugee disappeared from prison and is cut off from all contact, said Oldrich Andrysek, UNHCR regional representative for Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. “This is very disturbing,” he said.
The issue reached the very top, with UNHCR head Antonio Gutteres requesting help from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in solving the situation.
“The high commissioner expressed deep concern as extradition would constitute a grave breach of the core principle of international refugee law,” reads the UNHCR statement.
The general prosecutor’s office would not comment.
Abuyev was kept in the pre-trial detention for a year. On Aug. 3 he was brutally beaten by unknown men.
“When I came to see him in prison, he was beaten severely in the meeting room just minutes before I walked in. I found him unconscious and thought he was dying,” said his lawyer Oleg Levytskyi, who works for the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. In his Kyiv office he showed documents stained with his client’s dried blood.
Back in Chechnya, Abuyev was a politician in the 1990s, when Chechnya proclaimed its independence from Russia.
“We believe the assault was an attempted assassination and it is strange the prison guards did not do anything,” says Levytskyi.
His client is now hospitalized, recovering from a severe concussion, brain injuries and damage to his eyes and nose.
Like many others Abuyev was refused asylum in Ukraine, but the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he is not to be removed to Russia until the court of appeal hears his case.
Appeals from human rights organizations appear to be moving Abuyev’s case forward. Ukraine’s human rights commissioner Valeria Lutkovska started an investigation and reported the matter to the general prosecutor. The Kyiv city prosecutor has launched an investigation.
Ukraine joined the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention in 2002 and thus is obliged to grant refugee status to a foreigner with “reasonable apprehensions” of being persecuted in his native country because of race, faith, nationality, citizenship, social status or political views.
Human rights organizations have complained for years about loopholes and corruption in the recognition process, and a low success rate of 10 percent.
Tough odds and fear of abuse lead most asylum seekers to live in Ukraine illegally, experts say.
“People [from the Caucasus] who ask [for refugee status] in Ukraine are exceptions,” said Dmytro Groisman, head of the Vinnytsia Human Rights Group, adding that most try to bribe officials to stay illegally. “Those who ask for legal status are the poorest and don’t have money for bribes. They ask and are almost all turned down.”
Many use Ukraine as a transit nation on their way to the EU, sometimes ending back in Russia. The last story by Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist murdered in 2006, was dedicated to Beslan Gadayev, who was extradited from Ukraine to Russia in 2006.
Politkovskaya wrote that in Chechnya Gadayev was tortured into confessing to several crimes, and registered as one of many terrorists caught by the authorities in a sham anti-terrorist campaign.