The heroine of my first interview has left the country recently in order to find a political asylum. Reading her messages in the chat I really wanted other people to see them. I was sure that these details would help other people, so I invited her for an interview.
Marina: Hi, Albina! Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Albina: Hi! Until now I studied psychology, organized university volunteers in animal shelters, sometimes went to rallies, participated in the political campaign for the elections to the regional assembly. But that was back in peacetime and when I was in Russia. It is not clear yet whether I will be able to do all this in the future, but I will try to find opportunities.
Marina: Why did you decide to find a political asylum?
Albina: The military operation has started very suddenly in Russia. Rights and opportunities, which were very few, have become even fewer. All that was going on seemed to me a blatant injustice, it’s impossible to remain silent about it. At the same time, social media, which have already been limited, stopped spreading the truth about the situation because there are some new laws the government has adopted. They limit the freedom of speech and the consequences of these laws are more dangerous than the previous ones. Even before the announcement of the laws I was detained at an anti-war rally, the account where I wrote about the “situation” was blocked, just a couple of minutes after the post on this topic.
Despite the danger of further political activity, I did not find comparable support from people around me: on the day when it all started only 20-30 people took part in a rally, I knew only those with whom we were involved in the elections. Various people around me, from teachers to dreadlock weavers, justified and supported Putin. I was easy to notice, at any moment a criminal case could begin. I had already planned to go to Germany in the future to study for a master's degree. I really liked my university, teachers, my position in charge of animal volunteering, friendly group a lot. But it seemed to me that getting my education in Russia was not worth the risks and stress that would accompany it. So now I will try to enter the first year, start all over again.
Marina: What was your plan for moving?
Albina: Initially, my boyfriend suggested to move. He wanted to get a humanitarian visa in Poland, but we realized that we have reasons for meeting the asylum, moreover, there are friends and acquaintances in Germany who are ready to help.
So we decided to try to apply for political asylum in this country. In addition to the fact of oppression at home you need a valid passport and, in a good way, a visa. If this is a couple - a legal marriage (in order not to be settled in different camps). But we didn’t have time to get a visa as well as marry - it takes at least a month. In Germany, we will not be able to apply to the Russian embassy (we are running away from it), and marriages in Germany take a long time, divorces do so. We decided to take a ticket to a visa-free country with a transfer in another visa-free country and in Germany. Another important point: the ticket should not be through another democratic country (in general, through any country in Europe), because, according to the Dublin Agreement, you will be just sent back. If you travel in transit and less than 12 hours without entering the city, you will not need a visa. Then you can apply for asylum right at the airport.
Marina: Was it difficult to follow that many rules to end up in Germany and apply for asylum?
Albina: Yes, it took a lot of effort to find the right flight. At some point, I already began to despair, it was easier to think of it as something that was unlikely to happen.
Marina: Can you describe in detail your entire journey from Russia to Germany - from where and on what? To make it clearer to me and our audience.
Albina: We took tickets from Moscow in Tunisia
We took tickets from Moscow to Tunisia with transfers in Turkey and Germany, but right before the flight to Frankfurt, we and the rest of the Russians were not allowed to get in, claiming that the German police refused us. They gave us the airline number so we could get a refund. So we are stuck in Turkey. Due to the fact that many Russians who left the country after the start of the well-known events also could not get out of Istanbul, help was already organized there. "Kovcheg" (a group to help emigrants who left Russia due to the political situation - ed.) provided us with a room where we lived the last days before the flight. Later we finally found tickets that fit all the criteria, and our friend from Germany called the German airlines to make sure that they were transiting and would not remove us from the flight. As a result, we went by bus from Istanbul to Ankara, from there by plane to Dusseldorf. But it was impossible to take luggage on this flight - we bought a small suitcase for hand luggage and put everything there. There were also expenses on return flights and hostels made to convince customs that we were tourists and on tickets that we bought to the wrong cities confusing compliance with the rules. At the moment, we have not received a refund for canceled flights, in Turkey we lived for several days in a hostel and bought all the food with our own money. It is worth being prepared for such situations and unforeseen expenses, because even with the support of NGOs, not everything can be reduced, money is not returned immediately for canceled flights, and many companies do not do this at all. To be on the safe side, it's better to contact the airlines and make sure they're transiting ahead of time and check the rules carefully about visas, luggage and everything else.
Marina: How is the procedure for applying for political asylum, when? How did you confirm that you were in danger?
Albina: First of all, you need to find a policeman and report your intention. Then you are taken to the interview waiting room. This is the first interview, where it is determined whether there is any reason to leave a person here, whether to send him to the country through which he/she traveled, for example. Since at this stage it is not decided yet whether refugee status will be obtained proof is not needed. In our case, after arrival we approached the police and then were taken to the waiting room. They took our fingerprints to make sure that our passports were ours and that we had not committed any crimes. They also took pictures, brought an interpreter so that we could talk about our situation, sometimes asked clarifying questions. They asked how we got there, whether we had applied for asylum before and found out other issues that could have caused us to be denied. Then we sent a request to the authorities, after confirmation they told us where our camp was and asked how much money we had if we could not pay the fare. Although confirmation of what was said is not needed at this stage, it is better not to lie, because they will review the case anyway and, having learned the truth, you may be banned to enter the country, if not the entire Schengen zone.
Marina: Wow, it’s pretty serious, as it has to be. How do you like your first days in the asylum?
Albina: Yes, perhaps, the adventure….
The camp reminds of a hostel: there are bunk beds, the floors and walls are a little shabby, instead of cabinets there are metal boxes, tables are not everywhere. We were immediately given a bunch of papers ( the German bureaucracy), with which we can go outside the camp, get food, as well as shampoos, toothpastes and brushes and bed linen. As for leaving the territory, there are no restrictions: you can’t leave the country, if you leave for 48 hours, you need to do a PCR test and it’s better not to leave for a long time not to miss the interview. Families are settled together, including us, although we are married only in words.
About food: from the very beginning you can say about your vegetarianism or special diet because of religion. Although labeled vegan food is popular in Germany, vegan food is not provided to us, which, of course, is a minus, because you have to spend money yourself, and the ruble exchange rate is disappointing.
In general, I feel much calmer here, nothing threatens me.
Marina: So, you didn’t have the second interview, did you?
Albina: Yes, of course. The second interview is done after about two months-two years after the application is submitted.
Marina: So you can spend about two years in the asylum?
Albina: I suppose, yes. But most likely a decision about me will be made faster, and then I will already be given housing as a refugee or sent back to Russia if they refuse and the appeal does not help. Therefore, in order to have more chances to stay it is better to find a job or study.
Marina: And how is your job and study in Germany, can you find it?
Albina: I know German only on elementary level which takes me away from learning opportunities. Fortunately, in Germany there are educational institutions that prepare for admission to universities - such institutions are called Studienkolleg. They will help close this gap in knowledge of the language, but even for admission there you need an intermediate level of language proficiency, so studying it is my main task at the moment.
Marina: What is your plan for learning German now, how do you do it? Is it difficult?
Albina: Honestly, I didn’t believe until the very end that I would really get here and the plans seemed like dreams, which it’s better not to spend too much time on. So I'm not sure yet how everything will be organized, but I want to try to enter the Studienkolleg this year and before it to gain the required level on my own. If it doesn't work out, I'll go there the next year having taken a German course for refugees before that.
Now I’m trying to learn the language the way children learn it. It seems senseless to me to memorize words and rules at the very beginning, so I now mostly read in German with parallel translation in order to remember words and how sentences are built. I also practice reading rules, now this is the maximum grammar that I learn. In the future, of course, I will study the rules more and do exercises, write and speak on my own, but it seems to me important to start building a passive vocabulary, understanding the language.
Marina: It is a very interesting idea for learning the language! By the way, what do eatin the asylum? What products do you buy and how do you cook them?
Albina: We are given a lunch once a day, sometimes we are lucky with the vegan composition and we eat it. Also, they give us some bread with cheese (we never take it) and fruits twice a day. So,we don’t really need to buy some additional food. In our particular camp we are given pocket money - €35 per a person for a week. Any product costs €1-3 usually so we don’t have many problems with money on food. We buy these foods that we don’t need to cook (nowhere), for example, beans in a can, breakfast cereal, cookies, bread, peanut butter, jam and stuff like that. Here vegan food is V-Label Vegan, so it's very easy to find what you need.
Marina: Do you think there is anything else useful that you could tell those who are interested in political asylum?
Albina: Your application will be approved only if you have real reasons for imminent criminal liability. If you are not really persecuted (except for the reason mentioned), it is better, in principle, not to panic and really weigh how necessary it is. Propaganda and repressive laws have made the anti-war movement fragmented and implicit, making it impossible to know how many people are actually opposed, but there are certainly enough of them.
Also, do not think that everyone left and there is no one around. Many asylum seekers are denied, many, like me, want to return to Russia when it is safe. After all, we have an opposition leader who did not leave Russia even under the threat of criminal liability. All sanctions have been introduced only to limit the economic supply of the "operation" and will be lifted as soon as it ends which will happen very soon. Most likely, at this moment the regime will collapse, and all repressive laws and criminal cases that violate human rights will also be canceled, the Russians will be able to breathe deeply.
It's probably strange of me to talk about how important it is to stay, but it's true. Russia really needs sane people who are ready to resist the ongoing madness. Those who have stayed and continue to fight are truly admirable. But the desire to hide and not stick out is quite understandable. Right now there is our future president, and the entire future government, and the State Duma, who will build the beautiful Russia of the future with us, work at their jobs or study at school, most likely without even showing themselves politically, just because now they do not see such an opportunity. The main thing, as Ekaterina Shulman said, is to wait out this moment. Well, where and how to wait is up to you.