Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Refugees from Ukraine were welcomed as a group, and the government generally provided adequate assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported it had established a working relationship with the government on asylum and refugee problems.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported police at times detained, fined, and threatened migrants, refugees, and stateless persons with deportation. Some migrants reported racially motivated assaults by civilians.
In-country Movement: Although the law gives citizens the right to choose their place of residence, adult citizens must carry government-issued internal passports while traveling domestically and must register with local authorities after arriving at a new location. To have their cases transferred, persons with official refugee or asylum status must notify the Ministry of Internal Affairs in advance of relocating to a district other than the one that originally granted them status. Authorities often refused to provide government services to individuals without internal passports or proper registration, and many regional governments continued to restrict this right through residential registration rules that closely resembled Soviet-era regulations.
Authorities required intercity travelers to show their internal passports when buying tickets to travel by air, long-distance railroad, water, or road. Commuter travel by road, water, or railroad does not require identification. Authorities imposed travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.
Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom to travel abroad, but the government introduced new restrictions on this right during the year, including a law that allows for the temporary restriction of a bankrupt citizen’s right to leave the country.
The law on procedures for departing from and entering the country stipulates that a person who violates a court decision does not have a right to leave the country. A court may prohibit a person from leaving the country for failure to satisfy debts; if the individual is suspected, accused, or convicted of a crime; or if the individual has access to classified material. Authorities imposed travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.
According to press reports, since 2014 the government restricted the foreign travel of approximately five million s employees. This included employees of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Prison Service, the Federal Drug Control Service, the Federal Bailiff Service, the General Administration for Migration Issues, and the Ministry of Emergency Situations. Freedom House reported that often employees who were not themselves prohibited from travel felt obliged not to go abroad to be consistent with colleagues. The law requires citizens to disclose and register dual citizenship.
Exile: There were many high-profile cases of self-imposed exile during the year, primarily involving leaders of political opposition movements, NGOs, environmental organizations, and protesters who feared reprisals for their participation in anti-Putin demonstrations or for their opposition activities.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
In December 2016 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) estimated that the country was home 22,600 internally displaced persons, down from 27,000 in 2014. Of the 22,600 IDPs, the IDMC asserted that 19,000 were displaced due to the Chechen conflict. There were continued reports that conditions for some of those displaced after the conflict in Chechnya remained poor, including substandard living accommodations without proper sanitation and electricity. The government, however, no longer recognized individuals displaced due to the conflict in Chechnya as “forced migrants” (the law does not use the term IDP) and considered the problem of resettlement to have been resolved since 2011. According to the government’s official statistics the number of forced migrants decreased from 25,359 in the beginning of 2016 to 19,327 on January 1, 2017. This figure, however, asserts that the majority of forced migrants come from former USSR republics, namely Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, with approximately 3,500-4,000 displaced due to the first Chechen conflict from 1995 to 1996.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The responsible agency, Main Directorate for Migration Affairs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, did not maintain a presence at airports or other border points and did not adequately publicize that asylum seekers could request access to the agency. Asylum seekers had to rely on the goodwill of border guards and airline personnel to call immigration officials. Otherwise, they faced immediate deportation to neighboring countries or return to their countries of origin, including in some cases to countries where they may have had reasonable grounds to fear persecution. There were no known statistics on the number of persons subjected to such actions.
By law, an applicant may appeal the decision of a GAMI official to a higher-ranking authority or to a court. During the appeal process, the applicant is legally entitled to the same rights as a person whose application for refugee status was being considered.
Human rights groups continued to allege that authorities made improper use of international agreements that permit them to detain, and possibly repatriate, persons with outstanding arrest warrants from other former Soviet states. This system, enforced by informal ties between senior law enforcement officials of the countries concerned, permitted authorities to detain individuals for up to one month while the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated the nature of the warrants. UNHCR reported no cases of the disappearance or extralegal return of persons of UNHCR concern in 2016 or 2017, although several cases in which officials detained individuals (most commonly from Central Asia) and returned them clandestinely to their country of origin occurred in prior years.
Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. NGOs reported applicants commonly paid informal “facilitation fees” of approximately 33,000 rubles ($566) to GAMI adjudicators to have their application reviewed. Applicants who did not speak Russian often had to pay for a private interpreter. Human rights organizations noted that nearly all newly arrived refugees and temporary asylum seekers in large cities, in particular Moscow and St. Petersburg, were forced to apply in other regions, allegedly due to full quotas. With the exception of Ukrainians, GAMI approved a small percentage of applications for refugee status and temporary asylum.
Some observers pointed out that GAMI data failed to include asylum seekers who were forcibly deported or extradited before exhausting their legal remedies. Moreover, some individuals who might have otherwise sought international protection, especially those from Central Asia, reportedly chose not to make formal applications for asylum because doing so often led to criminal investigations and other unwanted attention from the security services.
Human rights organizations noted the country’s reported preferential treatment of Ukrainian applicants for refugee status and temporary asylum. According to UNHCR and local NGOs, authorities accepted Ukrainian applications for asylum on a prima facie basis that amounted to a de facto prioritization of Ukrainian nationals over other nationalities. As of November, the vast majority of Ukrainian nationals who applied for temporary asylum received this status on a one-year basis and were eligible to apply for renewal on a yearly basis. This prioritization resulted in somewhat longer waiting periods and somewhat fewer approvals for non-Ukrainian applicants. As of November 2015, authorities reportedly also had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Syrians. Local migration experts noted a decrease in the number of Syrians afforded temporary asylum, suggesting that GAMI had not renewed the temporary asylum of hundreds of Syrians.
Access to Basic Services: By law, successful temporary asylum seekers and persons whose applications were being processed have the right to work, receive medical care, and attend school. NGOs reported authorities provided some services to Ukrainian asylum seekers, but there were instances in which applicants from other countries were denied the same service.
While federal law provides for education for all children, regional authorities occasionally denied access to schools to children of temporary asylum and refugee applicants who lacked residential registration. When parents encountered difficulties enrolling their children in school, authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR to resolve the problem. Employers frequently refused to hire applicants who lacked residential registration, which was common due to landlords’ preference not to register occupants for tax reasons.
Temporary Protection: A person who did not satisfy the criteria for refugee status, but who could not be expelled or deported for humanitarian reasons, could receive temporary asylum after submitting a separate application. There were reports, however, of authorities not upholding the principle of temporary protection.
According to the 2010 population census, Russia was home to 178,000 self-declared stateless persons. Official statistics did not differentiate between stateless persons and other categories of persons seeking assistance.