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Russia: Once Welcome, Afghan Orphans Now Face Deportation

By Claire Bigg and Yelena Samguina Soviet troops leaving Afghanistan in May 1988 (epa) On 15 February, Russian veterans will mark the 17th anniversary of the withdrawal of the last Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The retreat marked the end of the ill-fated Soviet invasion of Afghanistan after 10 years of fighting. Rather than feeling rewarded for their hard service, many war veterans today say they have been forgotten by the current regime. But they are not the only ones who feel neglected. Many of the Afghan children who were raised by Russian families after losing their parents in the Soviet-Afghan war are now being branded illegal migrants and are threatened with deportation.

IVANOVO, Russia; 14 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Under an agreement between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, some 1,800 Afghan children whose parents died in the war were sent to what was then Soviet Russia between 1984 and 1985.

These children retained their Afghan nationality, but they were raised and educated together with Russian children.

Abdul Fatah Rashid was sent to Russia when he was 9 years old and placed in a boarding school in the southern city of Volgograd. He then entered a technical college and later moved to the city of Ivanovo, 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow. There, he married a Russian woman.

Documents That Don't Exist

Trouble started when Rashid applied for Russian citizenship. The migration service rejected his application and told him he needed to present a certificate from Afghanistan proving that he had a clean criminal record prior to his arrival in the Soviet Union.
Some of the orphans transferred to Russia under the Afghan-Soviet agreement have managed to obtain Russian citizenship through marriage. Others, however, have an ambiguous and precarious status.

Rashid argued that he was only a child when he left Afghanistan, but migration officials remained inflexible. Worse still, they ordered his deportation.

"I left when I was 9 years old, and it is impossible to obtain this certificate. The regime in Afghanistan has changed; the mujahedins came to power, and then the Taliban," said Rashid. "Every time there was a regime change, the archives were burned. Apparently, no documents are left there. I received all my documents here, in Russia. Since I had no certificate, they sent me an official letter from the migration service asking me to leave the Russian Federation within a month."

For Migrants, No Clear Policy

Rashid turned to Svetlana Martinova, a lawyer working for the respected human rights group Memorial.

Martinova says Rashid's struggle to gain legal status illustrates the incoherence of Russia's migration policy.

"In order to obtain [Russian] citizenship, foreigners first need to receive a temporary residency permit. To obtain this temporary residency permit, they need a certificate proving the absence of criminal conviction from a plenipotentiary state organ," Martinova said. "The whole problem is that it is impossible for these people who once received asylum to obtain this certificate. The embassy does not issue such a certificate."

Thanks to Martinova's efforts, Rashid's temporary asylum status was extended by one year. What will happen to him after that remains unclear.

'Immoral And Scandalous'

Rashid's case is no exception. Some of the orphans transferred to Russia under the Afghan-Soviet agreement have managed to obtain Russian citizenship through marriage. The others, however, have an ambiguous and precarious status.

Svetlana Gannushkina, a veteran rights campaigner specializing in migration issues, calls the treatment of the Afghan orphans "immoral and scandalous."

She says the recent introduction of a new Afghan passport has only complicated matters.

"They have a new Afghan passport that does not indicate when they arrived -- whether it was in 1984 or today -- and they have no visa. So [on paper] they are now people who have recently received an Afghan passport and who have entered Russia illegally. Nothing differentiates them from people who have illegally crossed the border a month ago, or today."

When Russia Is 'Home'

Rashid has no wish to return to Afghanistan. He says he feels Russian, and calls Russia his home.

Like hundreds of other orphans brought from Afghanistan 20 years ago, he continues to hope that his adoptive country will one day grant him full citizenship.

But he says the only people he is counting on for help are human rights activists.

"I wouldn't have managed without the organization Memorial and its lawyer, Svetlana Martinova, because other lawyers would simply have taken money, filed the application, and my case would then have come to a dead end, since they don't have experience with such cases, they don't know how to obtain this information," Rashid said. "This organization has helped in everything. I will turn to this organization again, because there is nobody else to turn to, no one who can help."

Gannushkina, who is also a member of President Vladimir Putin's human rights advisory commission, says she complained to Putin about the difficulties encountered by the Afghan orphans both in 2002 and in 2003.

According to her, the president had voiced strong concern -- but it was not until January 2004 that the governmental migration policy commission finally discussed the issue.

The commission, however, failed to take any measures to improve the fate of the Afghan orphans. Instead, Gannushkina says the commission simply concluded that the orphans were free to return to their native country.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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