Sunday, March 06, 2005

Madina Louemba

Don't miss Caroline Moorehead in The Financial Times, A life in limbo --- link

Sahib, Madina, her brother Aleksandr and their friends set up a human-rights group, opened an office and collected money and medicine for the refugee families, as well as campaigning on their behalf. They received occasional warning visits from the secret services: their too-keen interest in human rights was being monitored — and frowned upon.
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Madina and Sahib reluctantly moved to St Petersburg [from Baku]...Soon they made new friends with people who had recently started the Committee for Human Rights, which worked with refugees from the Chechen wars and the troubles in the Caucasus.
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One evening, when she was alone in the office, the police came to get her. She was questioned, beaten, slapped, her arms pinioned painfully behind her back. Released after 24 hours, she spent a week in hospital. ...

Madina could now, should now, have kept silent. It is hard, sometimes, to comprehend the kind of admirable courage that makes people press on. The Committee closed its office, but Madina and Sahib continued to help the refugees, inviting them to their own house and finding doctors to look after them. The telephone threats continued. Madina was again arrested. This time they put a bucket on her head and beat it until her ears rang, and they hit her with a plastic bottle full of water so that her body turned blue with bruises. Two broken ribs and concussion took her back into hospital.
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Chechens, and all those supporting Chechens, have routinely been arrested, ill-treated and even "disappeared". The second Chechen war was labelled a "counter-terrorist" operation, and a "law on countering terrorist activities" has been brought in under President Putin...
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There's more on her treatment in Russia. Eventually, she sought asylum. After eight months in England, she was sent to Italy. Since it was for there that she had obtained a visa, that was 'her country of apparent first choice'.

In 2004, 9,018 asylum seekers had their first hearings: they came from Liberia, Eritrea, Sudan, Kosovo, Iraq and elsewhere. Most — 8,150 — were eventually turned down and directed to leave Italy, putting the acceptance rate at around 10 per cent on a first interview, similar to the rest of Europe. The Iranians, with 31 out of 71, had the highest acceptance rate; of the 37 Russians who applied for asylum, only three were recognised. Luck and politics, as the CIR sees it, play their part in Italy as elsewhere: since Berlusconi and Putin became such friends, recognition for Russian asylum seekers has dropped. "Whether states like it or not," says Daniella di Rado at the CIR offices in Rome, "the granting of asylum is highly political." In a system so arbitrary, it is no surprise that asylum seekers prefer to try their luck in some countries over others: between January and September 2004, Austria recognised 94 per cent of Russians asking for asylum as true refugees, while the Slovak Republic accepted only two out of 1,081 applicants.

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The Financial Times reports that, in spite of Condoleeza Rice's Soviet expertise,

Mr Bush has effectively taken charge of the Russia portfolio.
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...she was outside the room on Thursday, as the most sensitive issues between Washington and Moscow - Yukos, Chechnya, freedom of the press, centralisation of power, arms sales to Syria and dealing with North Korea and Iran's nuclear ambitions - were left on the agenda for discussion by Mr Bush and Mr Putin alone.
('Europe trip shows Bush taste for diplomacy', James Harding and Guy Dinmore in Washington, February 26, 2005  - subscribers only. )

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