Refugees Magazine Issue 98 (After the Soviet Union) - Meeting the challenge

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister S. Krylov says an influx of refugees and forced migrants into his country is growing, and today totals some 2 million people.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister S. Krylov says an influx of refugees and forced migrants into his country is growing, and today totals some 2 million people.

Following are excerpts from an October 4 address by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister S. Krylov at UNHCR's Executive Committee meeting in Geneva:

In every region of the world, the deep-rooted causes of humanitarian catastrophes are identical: social and economic instability; a rise in aggressive nationalism and xenophobia; ethnic, clan and religious intolerance; and disregard for basic human rights. For Russia and other countries within the post-Soviet space these are not abstract notions but the day-to-day reality of societies painfully parting with a totalitarian past.

The peculiarity of Russia's situation is that humanitarian problems remain unabated despite democratic reforms. The magnitude and novelty of the problems we face overshadow the means at our disposal. Several zones of instability and regional conflicts - primarily in the Caucasus and Central Asia - are Russia's immediate neighbours. Flows of refugees and forced migrants from these regions into Russia are growing. Today, they account for nearly 2 million persons.

The ever-growing number of ethnic Russians who wish to settle in Russia is of special concern. From relatively safe Uzbekistan alone, the number of such persons grew eight-fold between January and August 1994.

Russia also faces a constantly growing flow of refugees from Asia and Africa. It is no revelation that the majority of these persons regard Russia as only temporary shelter on the way to Western Europe and America. But unsettled nationality issues, porous borders and tougher entry requirements in traditional asylum countries means there is a growing danger that they will settle down in Russia - creating a kind of "reservation" for illegal immigrants.

We are firmly convinced that all these problems should be solved primarily by ourselves. This is not only our moral duty, but an obligation under a variety of international instruments to which Russia is a party.

We have achieved some progress in meeting the requirements of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. A federal migration programme has recently been approved, for example, and a number of regulations adopted on migration control, status determination and other refugee- and migrant-related issues. The Federal Migration Service of Russia, established in 1992, is expanding its activities, with offices in many regions of the country working to international standards.

There has also been progress in relations with our partners in the Commonwealth of Independent States. An agreement on assistance to refugees and forced migrants has been signed and a draft convention on the rights of ethnic minorities has been developed. Russia is doing a great deal to stabilize the economic and political situation in CIS countries. This is probably the most effective way to reduce outflows of refugees and migrants.

We know we have made some mistakes in this new endeavour. Some of them are caused by inexperience; others, unfortunately, by the unwillingness of some officials to act in accordance with rules of law and human morals. Despite such problems we will continue to strive to fulfil our obligations.

We appreciate the moral and material support we receive from international organizations, prime among them UNHCR. Experience of joint work - such as the implementation of the Quadripartite Agreement on Voluntary Return of Refugees and Displaced Persons to Abkhazia - has been very valuable. We will draw on the lessons learned in our next task: preparing adequate conditions for the return of refugees from North Ossetia and Tajikistan.

Russia should never be allowed to become a source of instability - a country producing uncontrollable flows of aggressively minded refugees. To prevent that, we need broader cooperation with UNHCR and other international organizations such as UNDP. The regions of Russia that accept refugees should be priority recipients of technical and other assistance provided by the UNHCR and other international organizations. Russian experts who work with refugees should receive broader training.

We in Russia have been working to prepare an international conference on refugees. We have also prepared a draft national report and have established a legal basis for defining refugee status. We have improved coordination between agencies dealing with refugee problems. Our consultations with numerous states have confirmed their interest in the above-mentioned conference. This is an encouraging sign demonstrating that the international community does not intend to distance itself from the problems in the post-Soviet space.

Despite its many complex problems Russia also participates in the UNHCR-organized operation in Yugoslavia and has already provided $500,000 in aid to Rwanda. We are ready to take part in UNHCR operations in several countries of the former USSR, particularly in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

High Commissioner Sadako Ogata has said that "by protecting individuals, we reduce tensions in society and enhance global human security". We agree. The protection of individuals is the only way to lay down a solid basis for the sustained and progressive development of mankind. In the next century, meeting the real rights and needs of persons will be a genuine criterion of the progress of our civilization.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 98 (1994)