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Why They Flee The North Caucasus

Daghestani journalist Malik Akhmedilov was shot dead in broad daylight last month.
Daghestani journalist Malik Akhmedilov was shot dead in broad daylight last month.
A 29-year-old Daghestani who gave his name as Muslim recently told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service of his good fortune.

Three years ago, he said, he managed to reach a Western European country, where he requested asylum. While his request was being processed, he met a woman and started a family, which led to a positive resolution of his case.

Many other asylum seekers from the North Caucasus are not as fortunate, yet still cling to their dreams of one day integrating into European society.

The reasons why young people from the North Caucasus seek asylum in Europe are well-known -- abductions and disappearances; persecution on religious and political grounds; and even extrajudicial killings. Journalists, human rights activists, and young people who profess allegiance to branches of Islam outside the mainstream are most frequently subject to such persecution.

In August 2009, journalist Malik Akhmedilov, secretary of the editorial board of the Avar-language newspaper "Khakikat" (Truth), was shot dead in broad daylight outside his house in Makhachkala, Daghestan's capital. His body was found in his car.

The authorities attempted to deny in the official press that his killing was in any way connected with politics. They told RFE/RL that "it would be difficult to describe Akhmedilov's professional and social engagement as politics," and refused any further comment.

Akhmedilov's colleagues agreed with that statement, but only up to a point. They argued that "it would be difficult to describe what happens in Daghestan as a whole as politics. But when someone who does not claim to be a politician tries to stand up to this lawlessness, that resistance merits being described as politics more than do the criminal activities that pass for politics."

Ali Kamalov, the editor in chief of "Khakikat," told the press that Akhmedilov's murder was an act of intimidation.

Akhmedilov was one of the organizers of a meeting in Makhachkala in June 2008 to protest the extrajudicial killing during a "counterterror operation" of Rashid Gazilaliyev, a lecturer at the Daghestan Pedagogical University. Gazilaliyev was posthumously declared innocent. Participants in that protest demanded the resignation of then Interior Minister Adilgirey Magomedtagirov.

Akhmedilov wrote at the time in the paper "Sogratl," of which he was editor, "If we remain silent, they will shoot us all one by one…"

RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service has obtained a copy of a document that, in effect, constitutes a denunciation to the Interior Ministry of a number of prominent activists and journalists whom the anonymous author considers should be investigated. Akhmedilov's name was on that list, although that did not deter him from referring to it and even publishing an extract from it in "Sogratl."

Human rights activists and independent journalists are increasingly convinced that abductions and disappearances in Daghestan are the direct consequence of such denunciations by neighbors, colleagues, or acquaintances. The fact that even prominent personalities cannot avoid becoming victims drives people to seek asylum abroad.

Daghestan's President Mukhu Aliyev recently cited statistics showing that over the past 10 years, 80 people have been abducted in Daghestan, of whom 47 were released and four were found dead. The whereabouts of the remaining 29 is not known.

But those figures can only be considered a very rough estimate, not only because official data differs significantly from that compiled by human rights activists, but also because it is not clear whether all those young people were abducted, or whether some "headed for the forest" to join the militants or left Russia to seek a better life abroad.

"Some people who come [to Western Europe] seeking asylum conceal their true identities," Muslim continued, "because there is a danger that they might be deported immediately if the Russian consulate confirms European authorities' request for information about them." So the incorrect information supplied by asylum seekers only serves to compound the inaccuracy of the official statistics.

(by Murtuzali Dugrichilov)

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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