Thu, Mar 07, 2019 - Page 7 News List

‘Scared’ World Cup migrants face Russia deportation

DEADLINE:Thousands of people who had entered Russia using a ‘Fan ID’ have overstayed their visas in hopes of seeking asylum there or eventually migrating to Europe

AFP, MOSCOW

In a cramped apartment on the outskirts of Moscow, Lamin has little more than the clothes and the Bible he brought with him when he came to Russia on a temporary FIFA World Cup visa last summer.

The 23-year-old Gambian shared the two-bedroom apartment with nine other people — the youngest a newborn baby girl, the daughter of a Congolese roommate.

Like thousands of other Africans, Lamin came to Russia during last year’s tournament on a “Fan ID” that allowed spectators to bypass the country’s usual visa requirements.

While most came purely to watch the soccer, others had plans to stay on and find work. Some believed they could claim asylum in Russia or that the country would be a stepping-stone to life in Europe.

However, eight months after the World Cup, their hopes have been dashed and the Russian Ministry of the Interior has said it is stepping up measures to deport all over-staying guests by the end of this month.

Lamin, an assumed name, said that he needed to flee a family conflict in the Gambia because his life was in danger.

A church friend told him that Russia would be easy to enter during the period it was hosting the soccer tournament.

Even so, it was not easy when he arrived.

“I was confused, I had no place to stay, the situation was tough,” he said.

The former management student was eventually helped by a Liberian immigrant who shared food and offered a space in the apartment.

However, during a raid last month, police found that the Liberian had no valid documents and he was deported.

‘TOTALLY SCARED’

“I don’t know what I’m going to do next, I’m totally scared,” said Lamin, who has been given temporary leave to stay until the middle of this month.

With the help of the Civic Assistance Committee, an organization that works with refugees in Russia, he has put in an application for permanent asylum.

However, there is little hope of it being granted. Official figures show that in 2017, Russia gave full refugee status to just 33 people.

The “Fan IDs” were originally valid just for the period of the World Cup, but Russian President Vladimir Putin later announced that they could be used for re-entry until the end of last year.

Last month, ministry official Andrei Krayushkin said 12,000 people had stayed on illegally after the end of the year.

However, efforts by the security services had so far reduced that number to 5,500, he told a news conference.

Daniel, who has worked with African migrants in Moscow for 10 years, but did not want to give his last name nor where he works for fear of repercussions, said that the World Cup had brought the biggest wave of arrivals he had ever seen.

“When they get here, they’re stuck. They don’t want to go back, they can’t go forward,” he told reporters. “Most don’t speak Russian and without Russian, the chances are very small of finding a job.”

One such immigrant is Solomon, who came during the World Cup to watch Nigeria play — his home side. He already had plans to stay on after the tournament.

At first, the 31-year-old found work as a gardener, but is now unemployed.

“In Nigeria, there is no job, no good politics, no good life,” the engineering graduate said. “I just want to stay here for a little time, so that I am able to work, get some money and go to another place.”

He is “very worried” about the ministry’s deadline, but said that he has no plans to leave of his own accord.

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