Sasha was born in the Soviet Union in 1959, six years after the death of Stalin. He was abandoned by his parents at a young age and grew up in an orphanage in Uzbekistan where, as a Chechen national, he was subjected to psychological and physical abuse. The discrimination and persecution continued during his trade training and again through his two years of compulsory military service in Far East Russia – where “hazing” is the standard form of “military discipline”. In the military Sasha trained as a welder and martial arts expert, skills which he retains.
Sasha’s account of discrimination and subjection to violence is consistent with a plethora of accounts of the treatment of ethnic Chechens in the Russian Federation. Sasha also experienced discrimination in Latvia when he went there looking for a new life and employment.
With the Russian economy in free-fall deflation in the early 1990s, people tended to take whatever jobs they could get. With massive “shock-treatment” market deregulation anyone with any wealth (usually obtained via endemic corruption) needed protection. For someone of Sasha’s expertise in martial arts the natural place to look for work was as a bodyguard. In 1993, Sasha was employed as a bodyguard to a senior member of an organisation claiming to represent the interests of veterans of the 1979-1989 Afghan war (an organisation known to be a front for the “Russian Mafia”). He refused to continue working for this organisation when he was asked by his employer to commit a murder. He fled Russia soon after this request was put to him, fearing for his life.
At various times Sasha was also subjected to “requests” to perform services for the former KGB (FSB), a notoriously corrupt organisation, but refused this too. As a consequence of his dealings with these organisations, Sasha understandably fears for his life and future should he ever return to the former Soviet Union.
Sasha obtained a Soviet seaman’s passport (forfeiting his passport proper in the process) and sought a working passage on a boat, seeking asylum in New Zealand in 1994. In effect, he had found himself in a dangerous situation caught between the kettle and the pot and took the only way he knew to extradite himself from the situation – he jumped on a ship not knowing where he was going.
Adding to all this is the ongoing hostilities in Chechnya. This has led to many Chechens fleeing the Republic of Chechnya and the Russian Federation as a whole, not only because of the mass devastation and human rights violations associated with the armed conflict, but also in the Russian Federation, because of their ethnicity. The racial tension in the Russian Federation will be compounded by the recent attack on Moscow’s metro station in March 2010 and those subsequent around the Russian Federation, which has been directly attributed to Chechen militants.
Amnesty International in its report, “Russian Federation: Amnesty International Statement on the situation of Chechen Asylum-Seekers” confirms that the levels of persecution faced by Chechens in the Russian Federation render them at genuine risk of human right violations – so much so that Amnesty recommends that all ethnic Chechens be considered as refugees.
On basic humanitarian grounds alone Sasha should not be sent back to Russia, but he has had three appeals to the Refugee Status Appeals Authority (RSAA) refused on grounds that now cannot be reasonably upheld due to the changed situation in Russia for ethnic Chechens. But because Sasha has been refused three times refugee status his only hope is intervention by the Minister of Immigration on his behalf and the granting of residency on humanitarian grounds.
Furthermore, Sasha is essentially a stateless person. He has no Russian passport and is not a Russian citizen. For some unknown reason the Immigration Service has attempted to gain him Ukrainian citizenship, which Sasha declined as he has no links to the Ukraine. Sasha was declined Uzbekistani citizenship, and cannot reasonably be expected to return to the Russian Federation (who have agreed “in principle” to grant him citizenship) – a country that requires people to carry identification with their ethnic identity on it and where ethnic Chechens are subject to persecution.
One of the reasons Sasha has encountered trouble obtaining refugee status is due to a nasty situation in which he was denied adequate legal representation and interpretation services when accused of committing a crime he did not commit and was subsequently found guilty of lying to the Police. Sasha is not a dishonest person, but with the late Soviet Union and early Russian Federation as his only experience of law enforcement he made some poor choices out of fear of persecution and maltreatment. This in no way should diminish his case for residency on humanitarian grounds. Anyone who knows Sasha will tell you he is a top bloke.
When asked to volunteer, without hesitation Sasha says yes. When faced with imminent deportation and a country that has spent the better part of two decades trying to be rid of him, he is more than willing to help out a church that he has no affiliation with, or a rural bowling club 40 minutes from where he lives. Sasha has been so uncertain about his life for so long that he lives day by day as if he will be ripped out of his life and deported tomorrow.
When faced with a bleak future, Sasha has chosen to work whenever there is honest work, and when there is no work, to give his time away. Recently he spent weeks volunteering for Bush Telly, a conservation group trying to protect NZ’s native flora and fauna. That is Sasha to a T.
That’s why we want to tell his story – because Sasha is exactly the sort of immigrant New Zealand needs. He needs your help to gain residency: all you have to do is write a brief letter to the Minister of Immigration (Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman) or follow the attached template and send it freepost to Parliament in Wellington.
With gratitude and hope,
Supporters of Sasha Shamilov’s bid for New Zealand Residency.
PO Box 9000, Tower Junction, Christchurch 8149, New Zealand