Girls Are Traf­ficked In Guise Of Com­ing To Study In Rus­sia-abugu

• Why Rus­sia Turns Down Nige­ri­ans’ Re­quest For Asy­lum

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - CITY FILE -

Le­gal Ad­viser to the Nige­rian Com­mu­nity in Rus­sia, Dr. Tony Abugu, in this in­ter­view with KAY­ODE BELLO, spoke on chal­lenges faced by Nige­ri­ans who run to Rus­sia for suc­cour, the im­mi­gra­tion has­sles they face, pros­ti­tut­ing to sur­vive, traf­fick­ing and sundry is­sues.

It does ap­pear that the ac­tual pop­u­la­tion of Nige­ri­ans in Rus­sia is still an is­sue of con­jec­ture. As one that re­lates and works with them, do you have an idea of the ac­tual fig­ure?

THE pop­u­la­tion of Nige­ri­ans in Rus­sia is thought to be about 10, 000, if not more. In Mos­cow alone, we are more than 5, 000. How­ever, when you are talk­ing about the pop­u­la­tion of Nige­ri­ans in Rus­sia, it in­cludes hus­tlers, stu­dents, and busi­ness­men. In fact, all cat­e­gories of Nige­ri­ans be­cause we have a reg­is­tered as­so­ci­a­tion her. It is at that level that we dis­cuss is­sues af­fect­ing us and I am the le­gal ad­viser of the Nige­rian com­mu­nity. This po­si­tion I have held for two tenures.

There are about 89 re­gions that make up the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. In Saint Peters­burg, we have some Nige­ri­ans there. Same ap­plies to Vol­gograd, far east, as well as, far north parts of the coun­try. How safe are these Nige­ri­ans in Rus­sia?

For over 20 years, there were racially mo­ti­vated at­tacks and the sce­nario was very bad when we were still stu­dents. I had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence when I was still young, but now I can tell you that such sit­u­a­tions have greatly re­duced and the Rus­sians are now open­ing up to the out­side world as they only re­cently hosted the World Cup, where they dis­played an im­pres­sive level of hos­pi­tal­ity. In other words, they are more wel­com­ing now. How­ever, have it at the back of your mind that there is no area in the world where racism does not ex­ist. That said, I would ad­vise peo­ple to go about their nor­mal busi­nesses and not look for other peo­ple’s trou­ble be­cause some­times, Nige­ri­ans are usu­ally the cause of their prob­lems. Hu­man traf­fick­ers ap­pear to be look­ing to­wards Rus­sia, ei­ther as a des­ti­na­tion or as a route. Any ad­vice to the gov­ern­ment on how to nip this in the bud? Well, be­fore the FIFA World Cup, there were re­peated calls to the Na­tional Agency for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons (NAPTIP) chief to in­ter­vene. We even learnt she was to come to Rus­sia to ad­dress some of the salient is­sues we raised, but im­por­tantly, there should be sus­tained cam­paign against hu­man traf­fick­ing among Nige­ri­ans be­cause the gov­ern­ments can­not stop it. NAPTIP should reach out and work in con­junc­tion with the Rus­sian Em­bassy and the Nige­rian com­mu­nity in Rus­sia with a view to mon­i­tor­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of agents that bring peo­ple to Rus­sia. It is the duty of the For­eign Af­fairs Min­istry to li­aise with the Rus­sian Em­bassy on be­half of the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment, and to prop­erly scru­ti­nise Nige­ri­ans that are com­ing into Rus­sia, and for what pur­pose they are com­ing over here. There should be re­course to all the stan­dard prac­tices as far as in­ter­na­tional trav­els are con­cerned, and all needed clear­ances should be pre­sented at the fi­nal port of en­try. Any­one that does not have a good rea­son for trav­el­ling to a for­eign coun­try would end up con­sti­tut­ing a so­ci­etal nui­sance to the host coun­try. Some Nige­ri­ans that come with­out valid rea­sons end up spoil­ing the im­age of their com­pa­tri­ots that are here through the ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties that they carry out.

The sec­ond ad­vice I would like to of­fer is for the Rus­sian Em­bassy in Nige­ria to tighten its visa pro­ce­dure in or­der to fish out those at­tempt­ing to leave the coun­try with­out gen­uine rea­sons. Stop­ping these peo­ple on their tracks would en­sure that they don’t come over to add to the ex­ist­ing prob­lem that Nige­ri­ans here have. Get­ting visa through the so­called agents to en­ter Rus­sia is very easy, but it be­comes a big prob­lem for some of these Nige­ri­ans to even re­new these visas when they al­low them to ex­pire be­cause the process of re­new­ing the visa is more dif­fi­cult than get­ting it. That is why com­ing in is eas­ier and this is not the coun­try you could com­pare with

In the United King­dom when your visa ex­pires and you want to re­lo­cate back to your coun­try, the au­thor­i­ties would help take you to the air­port free of charge, but here, the visa you came in with needs to be re­newed be­fore you leave. In or­der words, you need valid visas to come in and go out.

So, the cam­paign for re­ori­en­ta­tion by NAPTIP should not stop. In fact, NAPTIP should from time to time em­bark on se­ri­ous cam­paigns and re­ori­en­ta­tion of girls that em­bark on this jour­ney. These girls are traf­ficked here in the guise of com­ing to study or work in shops, only for their pass­ports to be ceased by their traf­fick­ers. They are af­ter­wards made to pay their traf­fick­ers be­tween $45, 000 to $50, 000 to get their free­dom. If

they tell you the or­deal that they go through in do­ing this job of pros­ti­tut­ing, you would hate even lis­ten­ing to the or­deals that they pass through. Some of them are at­tacked with knives and such dan­ger­ous things. Some of them run naked out of the house just to save their lives. So, these are the kind of things that play out in this very dan­ger­ous ven­ture. What crimes and vices are Nige­ri­ans most likely to be in­volved in in Rus­sia?

Nige­ri­ans are en­gaged in money laun­der­ing, and ob­tain­ing by false pre­tence. Even though this is re­duc­ing, the great­est prob­lem that Nige­ri­ans are in­volved in are doc­u­ment-re­lated, es­pe­cially ex­pired pass­ports. Ma­jor­ity of them come into the coun­try to hus­tle and do not have any spe­cific thing to do. In fact, they just feel okay that they have been able to find their way to Europe, and be­fore long, they are plan­ning to leave Rus­sia for an­other coun­try in Europe, and in most cases, they are ei­ther de­ported or they al­low them­selves to get de­ported vol­un­tar­ily.

Nige­ri­ans in Rus­sia have also been in­volved in rape cases. As I speak to you now, we have a rape case in­volv­ing a Nige­rian with a Tu­nisian, which sen­tence was re­cently passed. It is the Nige­rian Em­bassy that man­dated me to han­dle that case, and cases here are be­ing turned up­side down at times, but if you have a strong ad­vo­cate to push your case fur­ther, it might re­duce the sen­tence.

Be­fore the rape case, there was a mur­der case in­volv­ing a

The de­ceased 27-year-old lady came here in search of greener pas­tures but was al­legedly mur­dered by a Rus­sian that dis­ap­peared af­ter­wards. Even though the mur­der took place a while ago, the Nige­rian Em­bassy re­opened the case, af­ter which the con­sular got me in­volved. The case re­cently ended on May 27 and the Rus­sian that com­mit­ted the mur­der was jailed for 18 years. Be­sides the jail term, there was also com­pen­sa­tion for the de­ceased fam­ily.

Rus­sian and a 27-year-old Nige­rian lady from Benin City in Edo State. Some of her col­leagues were al­leged to have been drowned by Rus­sians af­ter hav­ing sex­ual in­ter­course with them. This is­sue be­came a pub­lic res­o­nance that the Nige­rian Em­bassy needed to in­ter­vene.

The de­ceased 27-year-old lady came here in search of greener pas­tures but was al­legedly mur­dered by a Rus­sian that dis­ap­peared af­ter­wards. Even though the mur­der took place a while ago, the Nige­rian Em­bassy re­opened the case, af­ter which the con­sular got me in­volved. The case re­cently ended on May 27 and the Rus­sian that com­mit­ted the mur­der was jailed for 18 years. Be­sides the jail term, there was also com­pen­sa­tion for fam­ily of the de­ceased. But what, in your own view, lures Nige­ri­ans into pros­ti­tu­tion in Rus­sia?

Ini­tially, it was only in­di­genes of Edo State that were in­volved in pros­ti­tu­tion in Rus­sia. But of late, girls from al­most all ma­jor tribes and states in Nige­ria are into it. I have cause to be­lieve that they would not have re­sorted to this if their par­ents were ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing them fi­nan­cially, or if they had things to do to earn an in­come. But the en­tire sce­nario gets worse when their par­ents are the ones now en­cour­ag­ing them to go into this sex­ual slav­ery, which will lead some of them to un­timely death. In fair­ness to some of them, they ar­rive in Rus­sia with the hope of go­ing to the univer­sity; work­ing as shop at­ten­dants or do­ing some me­nial jobs to take care of their tick­ets, only for their travel doc­u­ments to be con­fis­cated. It is at this point that some of them are left with no op­tion than to yield to the pres­sure, es­pe­cially be­cause of oath of al­le­giance, which they swore to. These are the ma­jor rea­sons that I see as be­ing re­spon­si­ble for their in­volve­ment in pros­ti­tu­tion. What are the le­git­i­mate things that for­eign­ers in Rus­sia can do?

There are le­git­i­mate jobs that for­eign­ers that have their pa­pers can do in Rus­sia. But to get a good job in Rus­sia, a for­eigner must first of all get his/her res­i­dence per­mit; work­ing per­mit of at least a pe­riod of one year. Once these things are in place, a for­eigner can work in a bar or in a restau­rant. He can also be em­ployed as driver by the em­bassy as a lo­cal staff mem­ber. There are a lot of lo­cal staff mem­bers that are not diplo­mats. Apart from driv­ers, they can also be em­ployed as cooks, or to take care of other ad­min­is­tra­tive tasks. So, it is easy for those whose pa­pers are in or­der to take home up to $1, 000 monthly in paid em­ploy­ment or to open their small busi­ness, run them and make profit.

It should be stated clearly that no em­ployer is ready to take any­one that does not have pa­pers be­cause when they are ar­rested, Rus­sian laws stip­u­lates that the em­ployer would pay close to one mil­lion rup­pies, close to $20, 000. So, no­body wants to risk that. When you have pa­pers, you can also work in schools as a teacher, as some Rus­sians are tak­ing English lessons to be pro­fi­cient in English lan­guage. Be­ing a univer­sity grad­u­ate, one can teach Rus­sians English lan­guage on hourly ba­sis, and can even lec­ture. So, there are jobs, but you have to le­galise your stay in Rus­sia. Do il­le­gal im­mi­grants have rights and priv­i­leges in Rus­sia?

In Rus­sia, le­gal mi­grants are the ones that have rights. Based on their sta­tus, il­le­gal im­mi­grants do not have rights as much in Rus­sia be­cause they are seen as peo­ple who are vi­o­lat­ing the coun­try’s im­mi­gra­tion laws, and peo­ple, who con­sti­tute a men­ace. The

Rus­sian gov­ern­ment does not give them so­cial ameni­ties like in the United King­dom, or the United States. How is asy­lum seek­ing in the Rus­sia?

If one is seek­ing an asy­lum in the Rus­sian fed­er­a­tion, he/she has to go through the nor­mal process as spec­i­fied by the law. Those who end up be­ing granted asy­lum are those who re­ally de­serve it. Of late, Nige­ri­ans are not ben­e­fit­ing from it be­cause there is no war go­ing on in Nige­ria. Those claim­ing to run away from ter­ror­ists-in­duced killings and so on hardly get this. Peo­ple that ben­e­fit from this are peo­ple from Congo be­cause of the long-rag­ing war go­ing on there and in other African coun­tries. Nige­rian asy­lum seek­ers of late are not ben­e­fit­ting. They are al­ways re­jected be­cause of the ab­sence of war in their coun­try. How were you li­censed to prac­tise in Rus­sia?

The usual prac­tice has al­ways been that you have a de­gree in in­ter­na­tional law. I am a spe­cial­ist in in­ter­na­tional law, but I now con­fine my­self to mainly ad­min­is­tra­tive law be­cause it is con­cerned with prac­ti­cal is­sues that I han­dle here. Again, an­other rea­son that I am fo­cus­ing on ad­min­is­tra­tive laws is be­cause of the mi­gra­tion chal­lenges that peo­ple from Nige­ria, Ghana, Cameroon, and peo­ple from other English-speak­ing African coun­tries have as per their doc­u­ments. So, first of all, you need to get an ac­cred­ited le­gal firm that you would work with. They are the ones that would pre­pare the doc­u­ments that would al­low you to work in Rus­sia. You can also op­er­ate as an in­de­pen­dent le­gal con­sul­tant to the gov­ern­ment.

Here in Rus­sia, there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween a lawyer and an ad­vo­cate. Ad­vo­cates have broader scope of where they re­ally prac­tice, but lawyers’ ar­eas are stream­lined. They can as well treat crim­i­nal cases but lim­ited to pri­vate crim­i­nal cases where there is spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

To prac­tice as an ad­vo­cate, you might need to pass a qual­i­fy­ing ex­am­i­na­tion and then un­dergo an in­tern­ship for a pe­riod of two years. Af­ter this, you might work as an in­de­pen­dent le­gal con­sul­tant, which is ba­si­cally what most of us do. At this level, you might not need to go for any li­cens­ing, but if you are at­tached to a par­tic­u­lar le­gal firm, you have to ob­tain a li­cence from the Min­istry of Jus­tice. You there­after file your re­turns, as well as, spec­ify your area of ac­tiv­i­ties, which you must strictly com­ply with as they are be­ing con­trolled.

The Rus­sian lan­guage is cen­tral to learn­ing and do­ing busi­ness here. How much of it do you speak?

I ar­rived here in 1988, and it took me a year to study the lan­guage. Not just study­ing it, but get­ting pro­fi­cient in it as well be­cause lawyers and med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers need to know the lan­guage and its fun­da­men­tals. So, the pe­riod of one year is enough for peo­ple that are in the le­gal field to rea­son­ably grab the lan­guage, but that does not re­ally set aside the fact that not ev­ery­one is able to grab enough of what they need to know. Luck­ily, when I ar­rived this coun­try I made a lot of friends who were Rus­sians; who spoke at that time lit­tle English, which en­abled me pen­e­trate in terms of speak­ing Rus­sian. So, meet­ing them im­proved my lan­guage skills be­cause it helped me to blend prop­erly, Rus­sian and English lan­guage. So, I started speak­ing Rus­sian early, com­pared to most of my ri­vals, not of course at the level to have un­der­stood to be an ex­pert, but com­mu­nica-

De­por­tees from Rus­sia. In­set is Abugu

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