Twenty years ago, one of the first things you saw when you opened an international newspaper was the word “Chechnya”. The North Caucasian republic, caught in a separatist struggle in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, has become an international synonym of atrocities committed by the Russian military, as well as the occasional kidnappings of foreign journalists and humanitarian workers.
Today the conflict is over in Chechnya and the Kremlin-backed warlord Ramzan Kadyrov is firmly entrenched in power as the head of the Chechen Republic. But war is still brewing in Europe, which has become a refuge for thousands of Chechens who fled the bloody war and the brutal attention of Russian security forces.
Indeed, before the migration crisis hit Europe, migrants from Russia were one of the largest groups of asylum seekers on the continent. In 2013, more than 40,000 Russian citizens – many of them Chechens – applied for asylum in EU countries. In 2020, 5,500 people from Russia applied for asylum in EU states.
But when the Chechens do manage to get to Europe – often via the Belarusian-Polish border – life is far from easy. Besides the challenge of rebuilding one’s life, the threat of return remains in the background, as Chechens face hostile migration authorities, agents of the Chechen authorities and European law enforcement agencies, who cooperate with their Russian counterparts.
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Since 2014, a dozen Chechen asylum seekers returned to Russia have died at the hands of Russian security forces, disappeared or were jailed for long prison terms after a suspicious conviction. These extraditions, or deportations, often take place without any real right to appeal the decision.
A recent expulsion by France only reinforces this worrying trend.
No right to expel
Last month, Magomed Gadaev, 37, went to check in at a Limoges police station. He had been living with his wife and children in France since 2012, having left Chechnya in the late 2000s after being jailed for fighting in the Chechen War.
A few weeks earlier, Gadaev had been released from a detention center for French migrants, where he had been placed after losing his asylum application in the fall of 2020.
But when Gadaev arrived at the police station on April 8, he was returned to detention. The next day he was put on a plane to Moscow. In protest, he opened his stomach while in detention and lodged an urgent appeal against the deportation through his lawyer. This call, it seems, was ignored. A few days later, Gadaev was in a Chechen prison, facing suspicious charges.