Nearly 10,000 Chechens have sought political asylum in Germany since the start of 2013, an unprecedented number that is nearly six times as great as the flow a year earlier—and greater than the number of Afghans and Syrians doing so in the course of the same six months. Not only does this represent a stinging indictment of Ramzan Kadyrov’s increasingly repressive regime, but it also reflects a growing sense among Chechens that they have no future in an ever more authoritarian and xenophobic Russian Federation.
Last week, the German interior ministry reported on this surge, saying that 9,957 people from Russia, almost all of them Chechens, had fled and sought asylum in Germany during the first half of this year, more than twice as many as applied from Syria and almost three times as many as did so from Afghanistan (vz.ru/news/2013/7/16/641517.html). One theory being offered to explain this dramatic rise is a decision by Germany’s highest court specifying that asylum seekers must be given the same social benefits as German citizens, an action that has sparked rumors, some human rights activists say, that Germany has “opened its doors to Chechens” (Caucasian Knot, July 20; bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23325956).
Germany is not the only country into which Chechen refugees are flowing. There are more than 20,000 residing throughout the rest of the Russian Federation as well, many living in far worse conditions than those who succeed in getting to the West. And there are thousands more in France, Italy, Austria and other countries, although in some of these cases, Chechen asylum seekers have already faced expulsion (sobkorr.ru/news/51E676517A8C3.html).
In fact, Germany is offering asylum to relatively few of the Chechens because its officials insist that the Chechens have been persecuted by other citizens of the Russian Federation rather than by the state, as is required by the provisions of the Geneva Convention that governs asylum claims. While German officials say, in the words of the BBC, that “those who need protection should get protection” and that “applications must be processed quickly,” the reality is that many Chechens remain in holding camps in Berlin and Munich. Furthermore, in this election year, officials are reluctant to be seen granting too many requests.
But while conditions in those camps are not ideal, they are clearly far better than those the Chechens found themselves in before being forced to leave their homeland. One North Caucasian journalist, Maynat Abdulayeva, visited the camp in the Zimenstat district of Berlin. Noting that the apartment blocks were “in the best traditions of Soviet architecture” and that entrances and exits from there were restricted, he reported that the Chechens living there were happy that they had made it away from Chechnya even though they face long waits and possible rejection. Abdulayeva expected even more Chechens to follow the path they have taken (habar.org/?p=24140).
One Chechen woman, Azman Khalidova, from Shali, fled from her home two months ago. Her husband, she said, had been killed at the start of the war in Chechnya, and now the authorities there were putting pressure on her son who they suspect sympathizes with the militants. After their approaches, Khalidova sold her home at a loss and spent $300 to purchase each of the documents she needed to leave. She would not say how she made the trip but suggested that if the journalist wanted to know, all he needed to do was “ask any taxi driver” at the railroad station in Grozny or Nazran and he “would be able to explain everything” (habar.org/?p=24140).
Although some Germans believe that their country is attracting the Chechens because it is overly generous, most appear to recognize that the real reason is because of the instability and violence in Chechnya itself. Three comments appended to Abdulayeva’s article make this clear. According to one, the refugee flow “is the result of the ineffective policy of the Kremlin not only in Chechnya but in the entire North Caucasus. In the 21st century, the policy of carrots and sticks is ineffective—especially since the carrots are divided among a narrow circle and repressive measures are applied to a whole people. No one can replace these measures; local bureaucrats are afraid of new ones, afraid to lose the carrots they do receive; and the people are fleeing from their own land.”
Another said that Chechens have concluded that Moscow wants to ethnically cleanse the entire North Caucasus, and they have drawn the only possible conclusions as to how to save themselves. And a third said that “it is better to live in Europe on handouts than to live in slavery and the denigration among one’s own people. Chechnya today is a totalitarian republic, and we all know this. But all this is temporary, Inshallah, and soon all Chechens and Ingush will return to their motherland: Putin and Kadyrov are not eternal.”