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Russia: St. Petersburg Charity Says Authorities 'Deport' Homeless

St. Petersburg, 30 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Amid denials by officials in Saint Petersburg, a charitable group says the city's police are systematically rounding up homeless people and abandoning them outside city limits.

Nochlezhka, Russia's oldest organization helping the homeless, says city police are acting on the orders of Saint Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev to rid the city's main thoroughfares and train stations of homeless people. It says the police often transport homeless people to remote, forested areas.

Larissa Petrova, a writer for Na Dnye (On the Bottom), Nochlezhka's newspaper about homeless issues, told RFE/RL that her publication has documented the practice. She said she learned of the deportations this summer from first-hand accounts from homeless persons.

Then in October, she said, Nochlezhka obtained -- by means it won't disclose -- a copy of the minutes of a meeting of the city government. She said the document records Governor Yakovlev as saying that he: "gave the order to the (city police) to clean the city's main thoroughfares, trains stations, and airports of vagrants and beggars." Our correspondent was shown a document purporting to be these minutes.

The document, however, also records Yakovlev as saying that social assistance must be provided to the homeless.

Since then, Nochlezhka says, the organization has gathered 20 written statements from homeless people who say they personally have experienced deportation.

Nochlezhka defines the homeless as those who don't hold propiski -- residency permits. This includes, as well as persons living on the streets, such persons as refugees, displaced military officers, and forced migrants who may have some form of unlicensed shelter. About a third are ex-convicts and another half are homeless due to housing fraud in which they were tricked or coerced into giving up their homes.

The charity says that at least 54,000 people in Saint Petersburg fit the homeless definition.

Yakovlev's press secretary, Svetlana Ivanova, told the Russian daily, Kommersant, recently that homeless people in the city center inhibit tourism.

But Alexander Rzhanenkov, deputy director of the city's Committee for Labor and Social Protection, told RFE/RL that Governor Yakovlev hasn't issued any such deportation orders. Rzhanenkov charged that persons claiming systematic deportations have, in his term, ulterior motives. Rzhanenkov said that at the meeting in question, the governor spoke of a need to find financing for a program to aid the homeless, begun last year.

Saint Petersburg police also deny that deportations are taking place.