Svetlana Gannushkina on the difficulties involved in getting a ban on entry into Russia lifted

posted 18 May 2014, 12:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 May 2014, 13:01 ]
14 May 2014

Svetlana Gannushkina


A student from MGIMO (the Moscow University of International Relations)

Yesterday I spent half the day helping a Moldovan citizen, a student at MGIMO, cross the border into Russia. When she tried to come back to Russia in February after her winter holidays, she was not allowed to enter. Our crazy database detected some infringement of the law and refused her entry. A little while ago, she received a phone call from the Russian embassy in Kishinev, telling her that the ban had been lifted.

Having checked on the Federal Migration Service (FMS) website that her name was no longer on the list of "persona non grata" in Russia, the young lady set off for Moscow. She had missed almost the entire semester. However, when she landed at Domodedovo airport she was again refused entry, because the database had not been updated since the lifting of the ban.

Lidia Grafova [of the Forum of Migrant Organisations] rang me from the sanatorium where she is staying. The student's mother had managed to contact her there. For 4 ½ hours I then negotiated with the deputy director of the FMS, Nikolai Matveevich Smorodin, and an official from the FMS department responsible for foreigners, Sergei Vladimirovich Temryakovich. Even though it was a bank holiday, Sergei Vladimirovich spent a great deal of amount of time on the matter. He rang the FSB headquarters and found out that the message about the lifting of the ban was transmitted within the FSB at the end of April. The message subsequently reached the border, and the young lady was finally allowed entry.

Likely as not, she will never know how come her name ended up on the database by mistake.

I rang Sergei Vladimirovich to thank him. A few minutes later he rang me back and told me cheerfully that a letter from the consular section of the Moldovan embassy in Moscow had just arrived on his desk. This letter had been posted at the start of March and contained a request for the student to be granted entry.

Aleksander Blok noted in one of his notebooks that correspondence with Warsaw had become pointless because letters were taking a fortnight to arrive.

An electrician's family

Here is the story of a man whose wife and two-year-old child were refused entry to Russia in December 2013. I passed his letter requesting entry to the Russian president. On the 23rd December 2013 his lawfully wedded wife and their child returned from visiting the grandmother in Tashkent. The man set off to meet his family at Domodedovo airport.

The mother and child were detained at the border because they had been banned from entering Russian territory. They were deported on board the same plane they had arrived on, and the flight was delayed while the necessary documents were filled out.

Mother and child were detained in a locked room until take-off. The child was not allowed to go to the toilet. The poor thing had to go to the toilet in the corner of the room. After the mother had repeatedly asked for something for the child to drink, some cold water was brought from the cooler. Unfortunately it gave the child a bad sore throat.

All the while the father was waiting at the airport. Border control staff refused to explain why his wife was being deported and what offence she was supposed to have committed. They probably did not know themselves – they were just following the database's instructions.

While the documents were being filled out, the man was not allowed to see his wife and child or take his child away. When he talked to his wife on the telephone he could hear his child crying in the background and the border control staff shouting.

He lost all feeling in his hands and feet due to the stress, and collapsed on the floor by the back door to the border service. Staff stepped over him to get past, while a security man just checked that it was not a stunt, but did not call a doctor.

In his statement, the father naively wrote that his wife is a respectable lady who looks after their son properly and is a good cook. He could not understand why she was refused entry to Russia.

In the end, both we and the man received the wonderful news from the FSB that the ban had been lifted, but it took exactly three months. His wife and son flew back to Moscow and he met them, still holding the FSB's letter in his hand. Once again his family were refused entry, but he was firm: he brandished the letter from the FSB, made the border guards telephone their superior and let his family go home.

Today I received another letter from him:

"Dear Svetlana Alekseevna,

Many thanks for helping us to reunite our family and enable our son to get back to his homeland. To avoid having any problems like this in future, we decided to obtain a temporary residence permit for the Russian Federation for my wife.

Over a week, we gathered together all the necessary documents and my wife had the obligatory medical test. Only the final step remained: to hand the documents in at the FMS office in Moscow. We spent three weeks trying to do this, but eventually we realised that we could not carry on spending all day queueing. I need to keep working to support my young family.

For clarity, I will summarise the work of separate FMS departments:

1. An electronic queueing system for temporary residence permits is meant to let you to see how fast the queue is moving forward and stop bribe-takers on the staff fiddling the queue to make money. (Currently the electronic queueing system has been taken out of service.)

2. People are meant to queue in person. 2-5 people are processed a day and around 180 people are in the queue at any one time. Re-registration takes place daily at 7.30 p.m. The list of people in the queue is updated daily, but no one knows who does this and how.

3. You can put your name down for "queueing in person" at the FMS at 128, Profsoyuznaya Street on Wednesdays by phoning 8 (495) 429 74 39. Putting your name now after 9 a.m. is practically impossible (all the phones are off the hook) and it is probably like that on purpose to give the appearance of a genuine queue. It is a good way to fiddle the queue.

4. In the FMS office there is no visitors' toilet. We were not even given permission to take our son to a toilet. We were told to stay at home with him.

5. There are no chairs or seating area provided for migrants. My son fell asleep on my shoulders because at least I was not forbidden to lean against the wall.

6. In private conversation, migrants explained to us that if you pay 30 000 rubles to third parties you can hand in your documents for a temporary residence permit without queueing. (We were able to guess at the existence of some sort of "grey" economy, judging by the behaviour of one of the FMS staff when he talked to a few of the visitors. These visitors did not queue up and then disappeared again mysteriously.)

The information about the services available for 30 000 rubles was confirmed. We were invited to go through without queueing by the FMS employee (see paragraph 6). Payment would be due immediately after handing over the documents. This man's phone conversations, allegedly with yet another employee, gave the impression that corruption in FMS is not an isolated incident. The electronic queue did not just "happen" to be out of order (see paragraph 1) and the conditions described in paragraphs 2-4 were, in fact, created intentionally."

The man who gave us this report is an ordinary working person. He is in his second marriage and he still has to give financial support to his older children. It is not only because of moral principles that he is unable to pay 30 000 rubles.

So what is to be done? Should we start fundraising online for him on the Yandex payment website so that he can pay the bribe?

9th May 2014

The author, Svetlana Alekseevna Gannushkina, is chair of the Civic Assistance Committee and a member of the board of International Memorial Society 

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts