Friday, February 08, 2013

Syrian and Coptic Christians fleeing to Moscow, but Russia lacks shelters

A flow of refugees from Syria and Egypt is pouring into Moscow to escape from wars and violence in their country of origin bringing to light the inadequacy of facilities for the reception of immigrants in Russia. 

The complaint has been made by a veteran in migrant assistance, the president of the 'Civic Assistance Committee', Svetlana Gannushkina.

In the past week a family of 10 Coptic Christians, including a child a few months old, presented themselves in their office.  

The family say they fled religious persecution from Islamist groups taking place in f Marsa Matrouh, near the border with Libya. 

"They threatened us with death if we didn't convert and make our women and girls wear a veil," Reda, 26, who fled with his 19 year old pregnant wife told AsiaNews. 

"After the revolution many activists of the Muslim Brotherhood came - added his brother Viktor, 30, - who put pressure on us Christians to convert. Our problems started already in late 2011, but are getting worse 'Last year, after an argument with the principal of the school who wanted to force my daughter to wear the hijab, we were told that the presence of Christians in the city was no longer welcome. " 

"We sought shelter with a local priest - he concluded - but his church had already been burned once and so he did not want to further expose himself to attack."

Now all 10 Egyptians, plus Iraqis and Sudanese, are forced to live in a room of 20 square meters, with only a few chairs and a table, because there is no temporary accommodation center for immigrants waiting to receive refugee status in the city.

"Everyone is waiting for an answer from the Federal Service for immigration - Gannushkina , who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times told AsiaNews, - which must decide on their possible transfer to Ochyor, in Perm region, where there is one of only three reception centres for refugees in the entire country. "

The process, however, can last for weeks and the authorities have not thought of any temporary accommodation for these people, who do not have a place to live. "The problem is much worse for the Copts - said Gannushkina - because for them here, unlike Syrians, there is no large community or network of countrymen ready to open their homes." 


"It is winter, and in these conditions they are likely to die of exposure - she added - so we are forced to accommodate these people in our offices, but they are not adequate facilities." The small child Cirillus, who arrived with his mother, father and sister also from Marsa Matrouh, is already sick and was visited by doctors from Doctors Without Borders.

Last year 700 people turned for help to 'Civi Assistence', including 80 Egyptian Copts. The new arrivals are in addition to about 30 Syrians who in January of this year already made a request to Moscow for refugee status. One hundred Syrians arrived in the last six months of 2012.

Reception centers for refugees fleeing persecution and war are provided in all countries that have signed the UN Convention on Refugees. In Russia - denounced the Gannushkina - formally, there are three centers, but in fact only one works, that of Ochyor for more than 80 people. 


"This integration does not exist and the sanitary conditions are very bad," she added. According to rumors circulating in the press and among NGOs, the Immigration Service is considering even closing it down. The other two centers are located one in the Tver Region and the other in the south of Rostov, but are not working at full capacity. 

"In a country as large as Russia three centers for immigrants is virtually nothing, if you think that Poland, which much smaller than us, has 11," added Gannushkina, who has always declared that if she ever wins the Nobel she will allocate the prize money to building at least another refugee centre near Moscow.

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