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‘Maybe Uncle Vova asked Erdogan to make our lives harder’ Thousands of Russians have emigrated to Turkey since the start of the war, but now many are being denied residency permits. Meduza investigates.
Story by Daniil Bolshakov. Abridged translation by Emily Laskin.
Nearly 4 million Russians arrived in Turkey between January and September 2022. Last year, more than 153,000 Russian citizens were granted permanent residency in Turkey — more than in any other country. In 2022, Russians also bought more than 16,000 houses and apartments in Turkey — more than in the preceding six years combined. But at the end of December, Russian immigrants met with mass denials of their applications for residence permits, though Turkish authorities didn’t issue any official orders about restrictions on residence permits for Russians. Meduza spoke to people who were denied legal residency in the country.
Ivan Chernyavsky, from Moscow, left Russia for Turkey in March 2022, after the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and in April he got permanent residency in Antalya after he supplied a notarized lease and filled out a form with standard questions. “Submitting everything took a few hours, and within a month I’d gotten my ikamet [permanent resident card]. It was all pretty quick and easy,” said Ivan.
Before December 26, Russians generally didn’t have any problems getting residence permits. If the authorities did impose restrictions on temporary residence permits, they did so piecemeal. For example, in June, a number of districts in the resort city of Antalya, where the number of foreign citizens exceeded 20 percent of the total population, officially stopped issuing permits. In October, after the beginning of mobilization and a new wave of migration, Turkish banks instated extra requirements for Russian citizens before issuing a bank card: a Turkish work permit, a deposit of $5,000, or a commission of $100.
After December 26, however, the cities of Izmir and Fethiye (where many Russians made their homes after leaving Russia because of the war in Ukraine) stopped issuing residence permits altogether for a few days. Daniil Shaulov, an immigration specialist with the Russian company Totamtotut, which helps emigrants from Russia and Ukraine relocate to Turkey, spoke to Meduza about it.
A panic started in Izmir and Fethiye after December 26. There were unfortunate cases of people going to immigration services and being immediately told that they’d be refused. [But] officers didn’t stamp the refusal, and people could apply again for a residence permit in another region. Either that, or they were immediately told to leave [the country].
After news spread of a growing number of denied residence permits, Russians dealing with Turkish bureaucracy organized Telegram chats, with participants writing that Turkish civil servants hadn’t explained why their residency applications were refused.
“They refuse almost everyone, and if they do approve [someone], then it’s so random that it’s impossible to understand the logic. It feels like 80 to 95 percent [of Russians applying for permanent residency] are refused,” says Anton Kravstov, editor-in-chief of the DIY media operation No Future, who was denied a Turkish residence permit.
Sergey Basharov, the team lead for an overseas fintech company, flew to Turkey in late September after mobilization was announced in Russia and rented a home with the help of a realtor. The realtor then helped Basharov find a specialist in applying for permanent residency. “She prepared everything necessary for submitting a package [of documents] to [migration services]. Then I got a text message from [migration services] arranging a ‘rendezvous’ on December 1. I went, handed over [the packet of documents], and gave them my biometrics. No questions, just ‘wait for a text.’ In the end, I was denied,” recalls Basharov.
Elena, a screenwriter, and her husband applied for residency in Istanbul on December 19 and were also denied. “It’s no tragedy, apart from the money spent on documents and help with them. But now there’s another puzzle to solve. A friend of a close friend in Alanya had his application to extend a residency permit declined before [ours was declined], and even then he said it happens a lot,” said Elena. She and her husband had to pay $800 to get their documents in order. She told Meduza that that’s not the most anyone has had to pay for services that help get the proper documents together.
Mikhail, who works in marketing, and his girlfriend were also denied residency permits in Istanbul. Mikhail says that, without the help of lawyers, he spent 3,500 Turkish liras (around $185) getting his documents in order. Another Russian citizen Meduza spoke to said he’d spent 6,500 liras ($345) on a translator and fees and was also denied.
It seems that only Russians are running into problems getting residency permits. Georgy, a Ukrainian citizen, told Meduza that he hadn’t heard of any problems obtaining residency in Turkey among his compatriots. Daniil Shaulov confirmed this.
Georgy said that he had an appointment with Turkish migration services on December 19 and received a residency permit without a problem. “At the same time, panic reigns among Russians; there were mass refusals. Many of them are still waiting for a miracle from the Turkish authorities or they’re already making other plans,” he added.
The huge flow of migrants into Turkey raised prices for everything — from groceries to real estate — as well as discontent in the local population. A Change.org petition appeared demanding an end to renting homes to foreigners in Antalya. Its authors claim that the price of an apartment has increased nearly tenfold in three years for buyers, and soaring rents have made housing inaccessible to locals, especially students. As of January 23, sixteen thousand people had signed the petition.
All the Russians Meduza interviewed believe they were denied residency permits for political reasons. Presidential and parliamentary elections will take place on June 18, 2023, and Meduza’s sources said they believe candidates are trying to capitalize on Turks’ dissatisfaction with the influx of migrants by denying residency permits to boost their ratings with voters.
“I don’t think there’s anything going wrong on our side. Most likely, there is just too big an influx of people, either that or Uncle Vova [Vladimir Putin] asked Uncle Erdogan to make our lives harder, so that a few of us will go back,” suggests Sergey Basharov. Meduza was unable to reach Turkish migration centers for comment. The country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry also did not answer our questions.
Shaulov notes that one migration office might deny the same person that another one accepts. Getting a permit takes anywhere from a few days to a month, depending on how busy a particular migration center is.
Migrants can file an appeal if their application for a residence permit is denied, and Shaulov says it’s quite possible that the courts could reverse a migration office’s decision to deny a permit, and he pointed out that the state provides applicants with free legal representation. However, if the court doesn’t reverse a denial, and the applicant has stayed past Turkey’s visa-free period, they’ll have to leave the country within 10 days. After that, you can apply for the same type of residence permit in six months (or sooner if you try for a different kind).
For now, Russians who have been denied residence permits in Turkey either stay in the country illegally or move to neighboring countries. Telegram channels for Russians in Turkey have already appeared with names like “Where to next?” The current top choices are Armenia, Georgia, and Argentina.
English-language version by Emily Laskin
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