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Women in burqas sitting in the trunk of a taxi in Kabul. July 31, 2021.
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‘The police were waiting for us with handcuffs’ Russia is expelling Afghan nationals who arrived before the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan

Source: Russian BBC
Women in burqas sitting in the trunk of a taxi in Kabul. July 31, 2021.
Women in burqas sitting in the trunk of a taxi in Kabul. July 31, 2021.

Officials in Russia are expelling Afghan nationals who arrived in the country before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, says a new report from the Russian BBC. In one case in July, officials in the Leningrad region deported a 12-year-old girl and her family members, who had fled Afghanistan after the Taliban tried to force the child into a marriage. Several other Afghan nationals are in custody after being arrested at the St. Petersburg Interior Ministry while attempting to apply for asylum. Many of the detainees arrived in Russia during the Euro 2020 soccer championship earlier this summer.

‘We don’t know what will happen to the women’

In July, officials in the Leningrad region deported a 12-year-old Afghan girl from Russia along with her relatives. The family had fled Afghanistan because members of the Taliban were trying to force the child to marry. This was reported by the BBC Russian Service in an article about the fate of Afghan nationals who ended up in Russia before the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August. 

The Russian BBC simply refers to the 12-year-old girl as “M.”. She was arrested along with her family members in Vyborg on June 1, within the border zone at the Russian-Finish border, states the ruling from the Leningrad Regional Court. The girl’s family made an unsuccessful attempt to cross over into Finland, one of the defense lawyers handling their case told the Russian BBC. According to the lawyer, Yuri Sergov from the Migration and Law Network, the family members were charged with misdemeanors not for violating the terms of their stay in Russia, but for being in the border zone.

On June 2, the Vyborg City Court found M. guilty of violating the border regime in the border zone, fined her 500 rubles (less than $7), and ordered her forced expulsion from Russia. As Sergov noted, expulsion is the most severe punishment outlined under Russian Administrative Code article 18.2, but it’s not a mandatory measure.

The girls’ defense attorneys appealed the decision at the Leningrad Regional Court. The lawyers argued against M.’s deportation on the grounds of “the unfavorable situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” stressing that expulsion from Russia would threaten her life and health. On July 1, Judge Konstantin Ryabinin refused to satisfy the lawyers’ appeal. He dismissed the defense’s argument that expulsion posed a threat to M., “since the case materials lack adequate evidence of the existence of real danger.” The judge also claimed that M. hadn’t applied for asylum in Russia prior to her arrest. 

Olga Tseytlina, another lawyer from the Migration and Law Network, who also defended the Afghan family, said that they applied for asylum in Russia “three weeks ago” (in other words, in mid-July), but were turned down. In the end, the child was expelled from Russia along with her elderly parents and their relatives (two men, three women, and the 12-year-old girl).

Before leaving for Afghanistan the family was broken up — the women and the child were sent back separately from the men, Olga Tseytlina told the Russian BBC. “We don’t know what will happen to the women — after all, they flew to Kabul on the eve of the coup without the support of men, and fled from the danger of a forced marriage for M.,” the lawyer said.

Deporting ‘soccer fans’

Several Afghan nationals who came to St. Petersburg during the Euro 2020 soccer championship and stayed on in Russia after the games are also facing the threat of deportation. In late July, St. Petersburg’s Oktyabrsky District Court ruled to expel five Afghan “fans” from Russia. Prior to their expulsion, they were placed in a temporary detention center for foreign citizens.

Several other Afghan nationals were arrested on July 20, after coming to the Interior Ministry to apply for asylum in Russia, one of the detainees told Novaya Gazeta. According to the asylum seeker, police officers from the refugee department had invited the Afghan nationals to come in all at the same time. “We came and the police were waiting for us with handcuffs,” he recalled. 

The detained Afghans are at risk of death in their homeland, says Bakhtiyar Nabi, the board chairman of Afghan Diaspora St. Petersburg. According to him, the father of one of the detainees worked for Afghanistan’s presidential administration, another served in the army and fought against the Taliban; another detainee served in the KHAD, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. In court, some of the detainees also noted that they are afraid to return to Afghanistan because the “situation with the Taliban terrorist movement has escalated.” The court did not accept these arguments.

One of the detainees didn’t appeal the court’s decision and it entered into force in early August. However, it’s unclear whether this person has already been expelled from Russia. Another four detainees filed complaints because the court’s decision wasn’t translated into their native language, Pashto. On August 17, the case materials were returned to the Oktyabrsky District Court for the ruling to be translated. 

At least one of the Afghan nationals detained in St. Petersburg is not facing deportation, because his asylum application was in fact registered with the Interior Ministry.  

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