The burden of "Euro-tourism"
By Solt-Murad Epindiyev, special to Prague Watchdog
The days when all a Chechen family or individual had to do was come to Europe, apply for political or humanitarian asylum, and receive it along with a benefits package and free housing, are now irrevocably over.
Today what awaits them is many hours of interviews, language tests and very stringent demands. Europe has changed, and so have Chechens.
During the first Chechen war, guided by humanitarian considerations, Europe opened its gates to all the victims of the conflict without bothering to investigate each person’s reasons for leaving their homeland. The requirements imposed by the migration services were minimal or even non-existent.
Then came the second war, for which Europe was better prepared. Dozens of Chechens who received education and citizenship went to work in the migration services as translators, interpreters and consultants. Detailed maps of Chechnya appeared in virtually every country of Europe, and language tests were developed.
The peak of the influx of refugees from Chechnya to Europe occurred at the beginning of the present century. Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia each took a few thousand a week, but the refugees did not spend long there: nearly all of them went to the West.
In Poland, many Chechen refugees left to fight in the Ichkerian armed forces or work in the military supply services. Refusal is the norm in Poland, and refugees are seldom granted asylum there.
In Europe as a whole there was a sharp drop in the acceptance of asylum applications after President Akhmat Kadyrov came to power. The holding of presidential and parliamentary elections, the beginning of the restoration of the ruined republic and the numerous amnesties for those who had defended Ichkeria with arms or without led to a huge number of refusals, justified by the stabilization in Chechnya.
Some refugees who had been granted asylum in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, or Holland had to start all over again, as their original acceptance was revoked. If the migration service received enough complaints about an asylee who either failed to adapt or came into conflict with the law, he could be stripped of his asylee status and told to return home. It was not hard to justify such a decision: the war is over, it was said, you are no longer under any threat. Although this practice cannot yet be described as widespread, it is gradually gaining momentum, with the result that some asylees desperately change their names, destroy their documents, and try to obtain asylum in other EU countries.
For those who have already submitted their fingerprints to the migration service, life is much more difficult than it is for newcomers. They have to pay exorbitant fees for all the numerous inquiries about whether they left Europe and returned to live in Chechnya after their refusal or revocation. The official forms demand an enormous amount of supporting documentation: certificates from hospitals in Chechnya or Ingushetia, the humanitarian assistance card, the letters of summons to the police station or prosecutor’s office, the air and rail tickets. In addition, they have to engage lawyers and spend several months of illegal residence in Europe, where the slightest contact with the authorities (police, doctors, etc.) is fraught with the danger that the whole process will fall through.
Families with children who are unable to cope with this ordeal are now returning home, unwilling to face six months in a deportation prison followed by forcible expulsion. Single men, mostly young, are becoming Euro-tourists: in almost every country a Chechen or Ingush can find relatives or fellow villagers who are willing to help a fellow countryman to settle in his new location.
However, the Dublin Regulation between the countries of Europe, referred to in common parlance among Chechens as "Dublin", has prescribed the country that must be responsible for examining an asylum request. It is the first EU member state a person enters on crossing the border of the Schengen zone. It is the visa of this country that is usually stamped in the refugee’s passport. As a result, the scurrying to and fro across Europe has mostly lost its purpose, as people are nearly always sent back according to the terms of “Dublin”.
It is now commonplace for refugees from the Caucasus to have their applications turned down. Earlier, France was the only country in Europe where one had a chance of having one’s case reviewed objectively, despite previous refusals and the effect of "Dublin". But the situation changed dramatically after the influx to France from Poland of people from the Caucasus during the winter of 2008-2009. A part in this was played by the story which circulated in all the French media about refugees travelling from Kiev to Damascus by way of Paris. After these scare stories, the attitude of OFPRA (Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides, the agency that deals with refugees in France) to migrants from the Caucasus became much more strict. Many of those who came to France to seek asylum have had to return to the path of “Euro-tourism” again.
Fear is being expressed not only by those who have not received asylum, but also by those who have been granted it for humanitarian reasons (victims of war), as many are still dependent on social security benefits, have failed to integrate, and have not learned the language of their host country.
It would be wrong, however, to be too universally negative about what has happened. The situation in Western Europe and Scandinavia now is that only those who are genuinely being persecuted can receive asylum. There is no carpet bombing nowadays, and the terror has taken other forms. It is not as widespread as it was during the active hostilities, and the bloodshed is more selective.
Europe’s response has been tough: in 2007 the majority of asylum seekers from the Caucasus had their applications rejected. Social security benefits have been cut to subsistence level, which helps to screen out in the early weeks those who have come in search of an easy life.
Now the interviews ask questions about the specific nature of one’s problem, and the Internet makes it possible to check in a few minutes the dates of the events one mentions. An objective decision can be reached quickly.
The migration officials of Western Europe regularly visit the regions from which the refugees come. They are in contact with human rights organizations and representatives of the local authorities. This means that one’s story will be thoroughly checked. Occasionally there will be mistakes, but Western Europe has a court of human rights, and it is independent, so there is a chance to prove one’s case.
All of the above about the rule of law, the fair consideration of one’s application, and an impartial tribunal applies only to countries of Western Europe and Scandinavia. Among the refugees who have the misfortune to be in Eastern Europe there is a firmly rooted opinion that they are unceremoniously dispatched to Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia under the terms of “Dublin" solely because of the financial benefits they bring to these countries. There are also unconfirmed reports that this “cordon sanitaire” is generously paid for out of numerous EU funds.
One feels genuinely sorry for those people who came to Europe eight or nine years ago before the advent of "Dublin” and when the European authorities sought to integrate each person individually. Such people have not been able to start a new life and must now go in fear of losing everything again ...
(Translation by DM )