Russia on Friday halted the deportation of three Syrian asylum seekers to Damascus in a last-minute reprieve after an outcry from rights groups including Amnesty International, activists said.
Officials on Thursday had escorted the three men from war-ravaged Aleppo to Moscow’s Vnukovo airport and held them under guard prior to an evening flight to Damascus, before Russian officials axed the decision.
On Friday morning they flew back under guard to the city of Makhachkala in Russia’s North Caucasus where they will return to a detention centre, the head of migrant rights group The Civic Assistance Committee Svetlana Gannushkina told AFP.
“For now they will stay in the centre till we obtain their release and I hope temporary asylum,” Gannushkina told AFP.
She said that Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Kremlin’s human rights council, had helped as well as the European Court of Human Rights which issued emergency bans on all three being returned to Syria.
All three men had been living and working in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan. Two arrived on valid visas that had run out while one travelled to Russia using a relative’s passport, The Civic Assistance Committee said.
Rights groups protested against their deportation, citing international norms that refugees cannot be returned to countries where there is war.
Amnesty International condemned “Russia’s shameful approach to people in need of international protection”.
Gannushkina said she believed the men did not face threats targeted at them specifically if they returned to Syria but should not return because “it is dangerous for everyone.”
One of the men has twice slashed his wrists after learning his father, two brothers and a sister died in bombing, The Civic Assistance Committee said.
Russia launched a bombing campaign in support of the troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September.
Russia takes in very few refugees from any war-torn country.
Last month the head of the Federal Migration Service Konstantin Romodanovsky said that 1,000 Syrians applied for temporary asylum last year and there are currently just over 7,000 Syrians living in Russia.
Temporary asylum is for one year but can be extended.