There are no formal refugees in Russia, experts say, referring to the paltry figures of official statistics - during the Syrian conflict, Russia, for example, recognized only one resident of this country as a refugee, and another thousand received temporary asylum. Of all categories of refugees, people from Ukraine can rely on Russian hospitality, and many citizens of foreign countries were in limbo: for some time they worked in Russia, but because of the hostilities they could not return to their homeland, as a result of their the documents turned out to be expired and they were forced to apply for asylum.
We spoke with four women who came to Russia from different countries - Afghanistan, Cameroon and Syria - about how they got here, about their life in Russia and about their plans for the future.
(name changed at the request of the heroine)
I am twenty-seven, I have been living in Moscow for seven years. I was born in Afghanistan, in the city of Mazar-i-Sheriff - I finished twelve years of school and a bachelor's degree. After that she worked as a designer. The political situation in Afghanistan is very bad, it was impossible to live there. I got married. I didn't want to get married, the marriage was organized by my parents - one might say, by force. My husband is already an elderly man, he was fifty-five years old, and I was eighteen then.
We got married in Afghanistan, after that he sent an invitation, and I came here. I received a visa for three months, after which I returned to Afghanistan, then received the same visa for three months. I was already pregnant - my husband wanted a son, and from his last wife he had only a daughter. For this, he married a second time, he wanted a young beautiful wife. When we moved, everything was fine - my husband was working. But then he suddenly fell ill (he is already a man of age) and practically went bankrupt.
We have two children, they were already born in Russia. My husband was a very rich man. Before me he had another wife - Russian, they have a daughter, she is now thirty-one years old. Of course, I am younger than his daughter. They divorced a Russian woman, but he has Russian citizenship.
A year ago we went on vacation to Tajikistan. After the rest, he took the children - one might say stole them - told me to return to Afghanistan, because he decided to divorce me. I was worried about the children and put up with everything. Then through Facebook, through friends I found out where he is. I tried to contact the Russian consulate in Tajikistan, to tell that my husband took the children without my permission, but they did not help in any way.
Of course, the children were worried about me, they cannot live without their mother. The husband said that he would give a divorce in six months. Six months passed, he fell ill - he had headaches. Then he contacted me again - he cried, apologized, said that he would give up the children, asked me to return to Moscow. I came back. My husband had an operation on his head. He began to feel better and again began to scandal. He doesn't work and won't let me look for work. Sometimes he hits me. Does not allow leaving the house - only to the store, rarely and with a huge struggle. Doesn't even allow you to communicate with Afghans. After a long struggle with my husband, for almost two months now, albeit with difficulty, I go to the Afghan Diaspora Center - I communicate with Afghans and learn Russian.
The son is five years old, the daughter is three and a half years old. I would like to send the children to kindergarten, but there is a queue - we are waiting. We have great difficulties with money due to the fact that my husband does not work. Children demand toys, candy in stores, but we cannot always afford it - as well as good clothes. Our only help is my brothers from Afghanistan, who help with money. I don’t know how we’ll live on. Of course, I want the children to receive education and a normal upbringing, go to a good school.
Recently, my husband has had a hard time, but already almost agrees, for me to work.
and cannot work - who will feed the family?
I have Russian citizenship.It was very difficult to get it, it was necessary to collect huge folders of documents. It took almost two months, we did it from morning to evening - we only had time to have dinner at home and again went to stand in lines. We barely had time to hand over the documents. The son was then two and a half years old, and the daughter was six months old. Ten months later, I received my passport.
Was it easy to get used to the new country? On the one hand, as far as the weather is concerned, there is a long winter, cold and rain. We have very good weather in Afghanistan, high-quality fruits and vegetables - here they are brought from different countries and they are not like that. On the other hand, I like that it is peaceful in Russia, the people are very polite, the people are very hospitable. In Afghanistan, I wore a burqa and did not like it very much. Men always looked at me, always said something. Of course, it was hard there: the war, restless after the new government of the Mujahideen, who were doing barbaric deeds in Afghanistan. Here I can turn to people for help and they will help me, it makes me happy. Although, of course, hostility also happens. There are people, sometimes elderly people, who don't like something about me. Or in a polyclinic one day a cleaner turned to me unpleasantly, and then a doctor.
But I communicate very little with strangers - I hardly speak even with my neighbors, I am like a prisoner. The only thing is our women's organization. I dream that I have the opportunity to work and have money. I would like to help people who are in the same difficult situation with money as I am - from Russia, from Afghanistan, anyone.
Once I was on the subway, and there was a homeless man in the car. People were running away from him, and there was little room in the carriage, and I sat down next to him. I had lunch with me, I gave it to him - and gave another two hundred rubles, which were in my wallet. I thought, “What if I don’t have a home either? What if I don’t have good clothes and a roof over my head? Of course, people will run from me too”. The person had problems with money, so he got into such a situation. It amazes me - everyone should have equal rights. For this I want to fight.
The husband does not give rest: today he can say that we are getting divorced, the day after tomorrow - that we are not. I can put on makeup, go talk to people, but my soul hurts. I know Dari and Pashto, a little more English, but no practice. Learning Russian is not very difficult, as with any language - if you try, everything will work out. I have been teaching him for two months - for more than six years my husband did not allow me to do this, I was engaged in housekeeping.
Previously, he did not even let me go to the store, he bought everything himself. Now he lets me go to the store, but there is no money. Children demand to buy them something, but I can't always - I come home empty-handed, and it's not easy. On the other hand, you need to communicate with people and be cheerful so that people around you feel good, I don't want to tell everyone about my situation. When people see me, they think that I am always cheerful, laugh, smile.
Recently, my husband hardly, but already almost agrees, that I work. He is sick and cannot work - who will feed the family? I want to go to work. In Afghanistan, I worked as a designer, I can work as a hairdresser - in my homeland I worked for some time in a beauty salon. I just need to learn the language, and I can work. In fact, I want to be a model, I am very interested in this and really like it - but my husband will not allow it.
I am from Cameroon. She came to Russia for work, in search of a better life. I grew up in the southwest of the country, but we left there when I was little, to the northwest - there I graduated from elementary school. I went to high school in the Western region, in Bafusam, where my father worked. I only graduated from high school, did not go to university.
I grew up in different places. In the northwest, the city was very green, it stands on a hill. Most of them are engaged in agriculture, there are few business people - this is not an economic capital. In the northwest, in Mancon, most of the people are landowners. Like many, I grew up with my grandmother - I was the eldest granddaughter, and she and my grandfather were forced to take me.I am the eldest child - three of us were born, two boys and a girl. I grew up in love. A year ago, my grandmother passed away. Parents - mom, dad - I visited.
I'm twenty-eight, I'm not married. Now I am alone, but I have two children, a son and a daughter from different fathers. My daughter lives in Africa, and my son is with me in Russia. The daughter is very smart and very neat. All the worries about her lie with me - her father has a new wife, and he does not deal with her at all. She now lives with my mother. My son lives with me in Moscow, he is four.
Those who leave Africa act differently. You can go to Germany or Canada - it's easier. But a lot depends on money. I decided to go to Russia: it is next to Finland, and I thought that if it didn't work out, I could go there. But I didn’t know that everything is not so simple, you cannot go there without a visa. I traveled for the first time, I thought I would come and everything would be okay.
In September 2010, I moved to St. Petersburg, planned to find a good job there, but there was none. Then I met the father of my child - I thought that he would help me. He was not ready for me - but when I found out, I was already pregnant. I had no choice, I didn't know what to do. I knew I had to survive - but now I was not alone. It was very difficult, I was ready to give up and even thought about an abortion. When everything I tried didn't work, I decided to leave the child and look to the future - and moved to Moscow with the help of my brother.
It was difficult for me. For the first couple of months my mother sent me money, but it couldn't go on like this, so I had to fight. My sister worked in a hairdresser, I went there all the time and eventually learned it myself. I know how to deal with hair, but now I cannot find a job - I will not lie, everything is very difficult.
When the World Cup was on
I saw that many people from Russia began to behave
differently. We need to be a friend
friendlier with a friend
You have to survive here. Many people work from time to time - for example, looking after children, accompanying them to school. Some girls have to do other things - you know. It is not easy for men here too. Some sell perfumes in the market, they have no documents - so there may be problems with the police. But they have to do something, nobody wants to just go back to Africa.
I don't have a visa yet. I went to the migration service and explained my problem to them, asked if they could help me, but they didn’t answer me. I only have a son here. I know that women with children are not deported from Russia - as long as this is all I have. I have no other options - except to voluntarily return to my homeland, but this is very expensive.
I usually spend my ordinary days at home. Most of the time I watch movies on YouTube, read the news. I cook something, then I go to sleep - that's probably all. I keep in touch with relatives in Cameroon, especially my mother - I just spoke to her. She went through a lot for us. I call my dad, I talk to my grandfather, to my nephews in Kenya. Before my grandmother died, I often spoke to her. We communicate with cousins and sisters on Facebook - I will find out how anyone is doing. The easiest way to talk is through Facebook and WhatsApp.
I have friends here. Sometimes they call me, we go somewhere, we can have tea - or even vodka. It is very easy to meet someone, you can meet someone in various places - in the subway, in the market. I see people of African descent and I just walk up to them, “Hi! Where are you from? I really love your hair! Let's be friends?" - and we are already friends. With those who came from Africa, this is a very common story. We visit each other all the time. When I ask someone how are they doing, I see that everyone is faced with similar problems. Life is not easy here - but you have to cope somehow.
I speak Russian - not very good, but I speak. I help my friends when it is difficult for them to explain. I use my phone to translate. When I talk to people, I always try to be understood. I learned Russian myself - you learn it when you go out to the store or chat with friends from Russia.If they say something to you, maybe you won't understand right away, maybe you will need to use an interpreter, but you gradually pick up everything.
There are many nice people in Russia. In St. Petersburg, I lived with the Russians - they treated me very well, I even liked living with them more than with those who came from Africa. Some are very nice and welcoming, talking to you as if you have known each other for a long time. But this is not always the case. Unpleasant people also meet - they do not understand you, behave rudely.
When the World Cup was on, I saw that many people from Russia began to behave differently. Many fans from different countries came to it - so in the metro people living here came up and greeted, asked where you were from, if your country was participating in the championship. We need to be friendlier to each other. It doesn't cost anything to greet a person - or say hello in return. Usually, when you greet a person, he looks at you and just walks by - this is unfair.
The climate here is nothing, but it's hot in Africa - everyone knows that. It is good in Russia, but in winter, especially when there is no work, it is difficult. I would like there to be a company that would hire those who come here from Africa - it would be great. We do not have documents, many have children here - so if a job could be found for us, it would be great to make life easier. I would like there to be some kind of manual - we would be very grateful. I would really like the government to somehow help with this.
We need money for food, for baby food, for cereals. You are a mother, and if you don’t eat well, you cannot feed the baby. This is a common problem for those who live here. Many girls here do not live with the fathers of their children, they cannot take care of their own children. No work - how to take care of a child? It's so sad.
I want to do business, become a business woman. It all depends only on money. Business can be very different. You can open a cafe - people eat and drink every day. You can sell clothes - you always need them. You can sell baby food - the women around are giving birth all the time. I have many big desires. Only financial constraints get in the way. I am a very creative person and very hard working. I understand people, I persist in pursuing my goals. Everything that I go through, I do for the sake of my children - for them I must be strong and courageous.
I was born in Syria. Before the start of the war (because of it we left) everything was fine there - it started as soon as I finished my studies. I studied English, studied to be a philologist. I ended up in Russia in 2014. It was not difficult: my brother, who also lives here, made an invitation for a visa. People here treat us kindly. When we didn’t know the language, they didn’t help - but when we learned to speak Russian well, they got to know us better, began to communicate with us. We learned Russian ourselves - we watched people on the street and studied how they spoke.
My husband in Syria was a pediatrician, here he works as an accountant. We lived in the same house, finished our studies and got married - everyone in Syria knows our neighbors and is friends with them. My husband and husband Yasmin (the heroine of this material. - Approx. ed.) - brothers. We have large families. We lived well, constantly went to visit each other. We got together almost every week, talked. Previously, everyone thought about the future, how everything would develop, what would happen next. Now they think about the past - how good it was. We think only of the present - so that the children are healthy, there is something to feed them.
I have three children - two boys and a girl. Boys go to school, to the first and second grades, the girl goes to kindergarten. Children here learn the language very quickly. I do not work, I bring up children. How to work here? I can't teach English here. My usual day is like this: I take the children to kindergarten and school, then I come to the Syrian center. I buy groceries and go home.
It is easy to place children in school if you have documents. You need a lot of documents - sometimes they ask for registration, sometimes they ask where you live. Many questions are asked. We are refugees.We have the status of a temporary asylum, every year we renew it, but it is very difficult - each time it takes three months. Many now say that they are often denied asylum. Previously, the majority had a refuge here, now they do not.
Many of my relatives live in other countries - somewhere in Turkey, somewhere in Syria, but the connection with them remains. I really want to make documents, see my family in Syria or Turkey. But if I go there, I will not be able to drive back.
Now everyone communicates with their relatives on the Internet, via WhatsApp. I have four brothers and five sisters. Every day I talk to them for two or three hours - when the children sleep, I talk to my family. I watch the video, but not very much - I start to cry. I mostly listen to them. On holidays, I talk on the phone for two hours. My kids don't know what good grandparents they have. They do not know my sisters, brothers, because we live here, far from them.
Everything is destroyed at home. There is no electricity, no water, no drinking water. Of course, we would like to return, but we don't even know how it is now - we haven't been there for so long. When we tell children about Syria, they are happy, they want to go there. Children are always interested in what their house looks like.
I was born in Syria, moved to Russia in 2012 because of the war, with the help of my brother. The most difficult thing was to learn the language - it is completely different, although we know English and Arabic. The first year, when I did not know the language, it was difficult, then it got better. At first I taught him myself, then at school in the center.
My husband was an engineer in Syria. Now he is also engaged in this, he works for the sake of children. I do not work, I am engaged in children - I would like to work, but it takes a lot of time. I have three boys: two go to school, one more while at home. The children speak Russian very well, better than me. They speak Arabic at home, and learn Russian at school.
People in Russia are kind, everyone treats us well, only there is no help with documents. We communicate here with fellow countrymen, Syrians - they are all the same refugees, they all have no documents. Because of this, I also cannot return to Syria and see my parents. I communicate with relatives only by phone. I have four brothers and a sister, they stayed in Syria - we just talk to them on the phone, and that's it.
We are waiting for the war to end. We know and understand little about the war - just before it everything was better. It is mainly the common people who suffer. We cannot live as before, everyone thinks that this is some kind of dream. Many mothers do not know where their children are now - maybe they died, maybe they left for another country. It's very scary. Now, both here and in Syria, there are many children who do not go to school, do not study.
I can't go back - we are waiting for the war to end. There is no electricity, no water, no schools, no good work, the military is everywhere. Children know that there is a war in Syria. They ask: "Mom, when will the war end?" They see the war on TV, they know it's scary. Many people from Russia have been to Syria and know what Syria was like before. It was a very good, very beautiful country - now it is different. We do not know what will happen next.
We are grateful to the Civic Assistance Committee for their help in organizing the material
Illustrations: Dasha Chertanova