Look out, violence! - Deportation from Austria

25 February 2013 

Svetlana Gannushkina 

Source: HRO.org 
On Thursday 21 February 2013, ten Chechens were deported from Austria, all asylum seekers. Our fellow human rights defenders had already told us at the Civic Assistance Committee about this deportation and asked us to meet the deportees and see whether they would be detained at the border, as this had happened before. 

The younger members of the Committee went to meet the Chechens off their flight, holding placards reading "Civic Assistance" and "Memorial". No one was detained on this occasion, but only one person was met by family members at the airport, while two others went off to stay with friends in Moscow. The seven remaining deportees had nowhere to spend the night, though fortunately they got some food and were given a place to sleep in our office, where 16 refugees from Egypt, Sudan and Iraq had already been living for a month, while they waited to be sent to a temporary accommodation centre in Perm Region. 

On Friday we became acquainted with each deportee, bought them train tickets and brought them to the station on Saturday. On Friday morning Austrian journalists came to our office and spoke to the individuals who had been deported by the Austrian authorities. The journalists were ashamed of what had been done. 

The reasons why Chechens are leaving Russia has been widely written and spoken about in reports by NGOs: in the beginning it was the carpet bombing, the clean-up operations, extrajudicial killings and torture that drove people out of Chechnya. Now they are getting away from the totalitarian regime and the all-consuming fear, from abductions and torture, from violence against women, honour killings, and from the conspiracy of silence. They are leaving because in other Russian regions Chechens are becoming victims of false criminal charges, xenophobia and prejudice. 

However, on this occasion we did not ask our guests about the reasons forcing them to seek asylum in Austria. We spoke about their lives in Austria and the manner in which they were made to leave it. 

Here are their stories. Only names have been changed. 

1. A family of three: Ibragimbek, his Russian wife Anna and their eight-year-old daughter Kheda, a typical Austrian schoolgirl who speaks three languages fluently – Russian, Chechen and German. 

The family have applied for refugee status four times, but they received a negative response. They lived in Austria for four and a half years, where Kheda did very well at school and won awards. Ibragimbek and Anna have another daughter, older than Kheda. She did not live with them, but is living with a young Chechen man who has a residence permit. They have entered a Muslim marriage, and so to her parents he is her husband, while Austrians see him as a boyfriend, as this kind of arrangement is normal there. But under Austrian law the girl is still a minor and her parents are her guardians. 

On Wednesday 19 February Ibragimbek brought Kheda home from school and went to the doctor – he wanted some medicine and a referral to the physiotherapist. The medical centre was located in the offices of charity Caritas.
Police officers went into the office and the doctor's surgery and called out Ibragimbek's surname. He showed them his documents. They told him he had half an hour to pack and took him home. Ibragimbek tried to phone his lawyer and the officers threatened to handcuff and shackle him. He asked them not to handcuff his daughter so as not to frighten her. He signed the deportation papers without looking at them or really understanding what was happening. He couldn't concentrate and struggled to gather their belongings. Anna packed some of their things, but they forgot to take any money. They told the officers that they couldn't leave their eldest daughter as she was a minor, but the police laughed at them and said that they would find her a good guardian for her in Austria without them. The three of them were taken to a deportation prison for families. Conditions there were good in comparison with where other deportees were placed. 

Ibragimbek finally got through to his lawyer and was told that they had got a paper from the magistrate and their case had been sent for review, so deportation was impossible. Up until the last minute Ibragimbek was asking the officer in charge to verify the information and expected that they would be allowed to stay, but no paper arrived.
Ibragimbek's sister has lived in Austria for nine years; she was granted asylum on the same grounds, which were sufficiently compelling and substantiated by evidence, on which Ibragimbek's family received a rejection. 

2. Sultan, lived in Austria for seven years, his wife and children were granted asylum in France. 

Sultan was waiting to be reunited with his family and hoped for a quick decision. He passed the German language exam, earned good money, paid his taxes, had recently started a company and applied for a work visa. The cars are still there and the company is still running. 

On the morning of the 19 February there came a knock on the door. Police burst in, grabbed Sultan and took him away. They were in such a rush that they didn't let him put on any socks. He travelled in their car wearing shoes and no socks. They only allowed him to put on socks when members of an NGO arrived at the police station. 

They also threatened to handcuff him. He doesn't understand why such an urgent deportation was necessary: half an hour to get ready, no time to get his affairs in order or say goodbye to his family. 

Sultan had previously submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights and received a response: they sent him a form and gave him a deadline for submitting a full application. But the camp administration had concealed the envelope from Strasbourg and only gave it to him when the application deadline had passed. 

3. Laila, 19, arrived in Austria in 2011 to live with her husband, who has a residence permit. The couple was married in absentia and Laila lived with her husband's parents for six months. 

As often happens, the Chechen authorities suspected that her husband had gone to join an illegal armed opposition group when they found he wasn't at home. Law enforcement officers came to her parents' house and her husband's parents' house looking for him; they didn't believe that he wasn't in Russia. 

In Austria Laila and her husband tried to register their marriage with the magistrates, but they were told that they could not do this as their marriage, which was officiated in a mosque, was recognised in Austria, and so they could not get married a second time and there was no need to do so. However, the migration agencies did not recognise their marriage and sent them to the magistrates. 

Numerous attempts to reach an agreement between the two official bodies came to nothing.
Laila is pregnant and had hoped to be given permission to stay with her husband. But she was refused. Their lawyer told them they had six weeks to appeal. 

Only around two weeks had passed when, on the morning of 19 February, the doorbell rang and Laila looked out through the peep-hole – no one was there. Another ring and again no one. She and her husband opened the door and saw police officers. They shouted at her to get ready and gave her half an hour to pack. Laila unseeingly threw whatever came to hand into a bag. It turns out that she brought two jackets and boots, but didn't bring a single dress. She is afraid of bringing new trouble down on her and her husband's family, and so she doesn't know where she will go now. 

She didn't trust us initially. She wanted to stay the night in the airport alone, and asked who had "sent" us, but she later calmed down a little and went with the others to our office. 

A sweet young woman, Laila misses her husband terribly and needs his support. She hopes that her lawyer will succeed and she will be allowed to return to her husband. 

4. Malika, 50, lived in Austria for 10 months. She suffers from a serious form of diabetes and hepatitis C as a result of her troubles in Chechnya 

Malika has a bag full of medicines and vials. Her doctors began a course of treatment and told her that she must not disrupt the intensive regimen. The course is to last six months and Malika dearly hopes that it will help. 

For the hepatitis she needs an injection once a week; the injections are very expensive and in Russia are not given free of charge. According to Malika's information, a vial costs 11,000 rubles, meaning that she needs 40,000 rubles a month. She doesn't have this kind of money and has nowhere to get it from. Moreover, she doesn't even know if this type of medicine is available in Chechnya. 

After receiving her rejection, Malika was preparing to send a statement to the migration agencies telling them that her treatment could not be disrupted, but did not manage to in time. Early in the morning on 19 February, she heard loud knocking on the door of her housing in the refugee camp. Malika was frightened. She opened the door and saw the police. She tried to tell them about her treatment and phoned the doctor. But the police would not speak to the doctor on the phone. They gave her half an hour to pack, like all the others. Malika was so distressed that she couldn't dress herself; a female neighbour from the block dressed her and put her shoes on her feet. The officers shouted at her and threatened her. She forgot to take the syringes for her hepatitis C and diabetes from the refrigerator. She signed some papers with little understanding of what she was doing. In the car she asked for water so she could take her medicine. They did not give her any water, only laughed at her the whole time. She was unable to walk, and she fell, but the police officers did not believe her and thought it was an act. Everything was taken from her, her bag was searched, and as a result her phone card was lost. 

Malika is very ill and should not have been deported on humanitarian grounds. The Austrian authorities knew this, which is why she was accompanied by a doctor on the flight. No one cared what happened to her once she was on Russian soil – the doctor returned to Austria on the same plane. 

5. Fatima, 22, speaks German fluently and passed the advanced language exams required for gaining Austrian citizenship. 

The story of Fatima's family is a tragic one. Several years ago her father took her and his other children to Austria, unbeknownst to Fatima's mother. There he married another woman. The family's asylum application was approved. Fatima's mother could not bear to be parted from her children and came to Austria, but her ex-husband would not allow her to see them. As a result of the stress, her mental state began to decline. Then Fatima demonstrated her independence and left to live with her mother. They had no means of subsistence and so they returned to Chechnya and lost their refugee status. Later, when she found out she now had a grandson, Fatima's mother persuaded Fatima to go to Austria again, but this time they were not granted asylum.
On 19 February Fatima's lawyer received a phone call and was told that she and her mother were to be deported but they promised to give them a few days to pack. At this time, Fatima's mother was in a psychiatric clinic. 

At 10 o'clock at night, when Fatima and her younger brother were returning home, she was stopped at the door by a police officer and told to get in the car. She was shocked and asked him if she could pack her clothes. He said no, and she was taken away with a single handbag in her possession, the one she had been carrying. Fatima's brother was not allowed to get in the car; the officer promised that he could see her at the police station they were taking her to, but he was not allowed in. She signed the deportation papers, like everyone else, under the threat of being handcuffed. 

Fatima spent a terrifying night in the police station. She was locked in a small and stuffy cell; where she felt unable to breathe. She struggled and screamed; a doctor was called and set up a drip with a soporific, but she only fell asleep for a few minutes. She felt like she was dying. 

The next morning Fatima was visited by a Caritas representative. The police promised him that they would allow her to phone and see her brother. They told the Caritas representative that she had refused to gather her things and told them that her brother would bring them. But when the Caritas representative left, the police did not allow Fatima to phone or see her brother. Fatima wanted to find out what was happening with her mother, but they did not allow her to do this either. 

Fatima arrived in freezing Moscow in a light dress and thin jacket. In our office, Fatima, for the first time in 48 hours, changed her clothes (she wore one of Malika's dresses), washed herself, washed her things and dried them on the radiator.
Once in Moscow Fatima learned that the authorities wanted to deport her mother straight from the hospital, where she was under police watch. But Fatima's younger brothers came and quietly took her away. 

Our guests have cheered up a bit in our office and have begun to trust us, although they initially said that they didn't trust anyone. They told us how they had been unable to eat for two days, how the women had sobbed on the plane. 

They had expected help but instead received insults and unjustified cruelty. 

Apart from the Chechen Republic, they have nowhere to go. 

We will monitor the fates of these seven deportees, but it's impossible to say with any certainty that we will be able to help them if they need it. 

Why has Austria reviewed its position on granting asylum to Chechens? Have the Austrian authorities believed the reports of peace and stability in Chechnya? More likely is that they preferred to believe them, so as to avoid the burden of international agreements on granting asylum. 

Why was it necessary to treat people so harshly at their departure? Threatening them with handcuffs, allowing them only half an hour to pack, disrupting their medical treatment, taking a child out of school in the middle of the year, separating a young, pregnant woman from her husband – why was all of this necessary? The refugees believe that their torturers derive pleasure from their limitless power over them, from the feeling of superiority, of belonging to a higher race. 

To the Austrian people, I say: be careful – the refugees may go, but they're leaving behind people who have now got a taste for authorised cruelty and violence. Who knows how this will turn out for you and your children, who will have to live side by side with these people? 

Source: Civic Assistance