The film – ‘Welcome to Chechnya’ – that we screened during the Human Right Film Festival at the end of August, shows how human rights issues are interlinked. From the documentary, we learn that LGBTQI+ refugees faced a difficult asylum process. The activists, depicted in this film, helping these asylees – such as Olga Baranova whom we met in Malmö – have and are still risking their lives to relocate the victims.
‘These people are refugees‘, said Stefan Ingvarsson, about the young men and women that we meet in the film, as he took part in the panel discussion following the screening of the film ‘Welcome to Chechnya’. The discussion was moderated by Zuzana Zalanova, Director of the Europe Office at RWI. Stefan Ingvarsson followed the humanitarian crisis in Chechnya closely, as he worked as Sweden’s Cultural Attaché in Moscow between 2015-2020.
Below we shed light on some of the concepts that were brought up during the conversation. The quotes below come from the panel discussion with Olga Baranova, activist and protagonist in the documentary ‘Welcome to Chechnya’, Stefan Ingvarsson, former Cultural Attaché in Moscow and Inna Bukshtynovich, Civil Rights Defenders.
What is an asylum seeker?
The definition of an asylum seeker, also called asylee, and the asylum process can sometimes be difficult to understand. The most important fact to understand is that seeking asylum is a fundamental human right for all.
Article 14.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights (1948) states that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.
“If a person leaves Russia and seeks asylum in another country upon arrival, it doesn’t guarantee asylum. They might be deported back – which is a death sentence” – Olga Baranova
The Refugee Convention and ‘non-refoulement’
The 1951 Refugee Convention defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines refugee rights. The main principle of the convention is non-refoulement, which is considered a rule of customary international law. Non-refoulement means that “a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to life or freedom”.
When discussing the case of Chechnya after the film screening, Stefan Ingvarsson stated that: “I think it’s important to note here that Sweden received zero refugees. Most countries in Europe helped a little. Sweden was an exception.” This was also due to Sweden not approving specific visas. To this Zuzana Zalanova added that “sometimes it is easier to get humanitarian visa”, instead of applying for a specific one.
When the convention was first signed in 1951, it was done with temporal and geographical restrictions. The 1967 Protocol was then added removing these conditions.
Countries that have ratified the 1967 Protocol, but not the 1951 Refugee Convention, agree under article 1 of the Protocol that they need to stand by the 1951 Refugee Convention as well. There are currently 143 states that have signed the Convention, so called ‘state parties’.
Many people flee war, violence, hunger, and extreme poverty. The reasons for seeking asylum vary. The need for asylum can also be due to sexual or gender orientation, climate change, or natural disasters.
Often there is a combination of one or more of these circumstances. A person seeking asylum is someone looking for protection from persecution and other human rights violations.
An asylee is not yet legally recognised as a refugee. An asylee is someone waiting to receive a decision on their asylum claim.
“It is really very difficult. Besides just sitting and waiting, people couldn’t leave their (safe) houses during all this time. It is very difficult when you have to stay away from friends and family, and as we had to destroy their phones and devices so they couldn’t be tracked. And when they often have been traumatized. […] And to save them from themselves, cause they might do silly things and potentially expose us” (About the wait for a decision) – Olga Baranova.
The Dublin Regulation
The fact that you asked for asylum here does not guarantee that they will examine your request here. The country that will examine your request is determined through a process established by a European Union law known as the ‘Dublin’ Regulation. According to this law, only one country is responsible for examining your request”.
The ‘Dublin countries’ include the 28 countries in the European Union. The Dublin procedure determines what country should handle the asylees application. If the asylee is in a country other than the one that should handle the application, the asylee is sent back to that country. That is where the application will be processed.
During the asylum process the asylee goes through an interview explaining and showcasing why they seek asylum. An important part of this process is a principle called the ‘benefit of the doubt’.
It can only be given when all evidence has been collected and checked by the examiner. Further, the examiner needs to be satisfied with the case and the asylee general credibility.
It is vital for the asylee to not only explain the situation of the country they are fleeing from but also their personal experiences. An interpreter is present during the interview to ensure that the asylee understands everything.
This article is written as a part and continuation of the film festival conversation that took place after the screening of the documentary Welcome to Chechnya.