Despite eight years of civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and ravaged Syria, Russia’s Supreme Court incredulously declared that Zakria Timbut has nothing to fear in returning to his homeland.
Fearing for his life, Timbut fled Syria in 2013, entered Russia on a business visa, and then sought temporary asylum. On May 28, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of a court in Ivanovo, a small town 300 km. northeast of Moscow, to deny his request for temporary asylum in Russia.
“A significant amount of populated areas of Syria have joined the ceasefire regime… there are ongoing humanitarian actions, medical help is being provided… the ongoing events on its territory have specific characteristics of a counterterrorist operation, not a classical military confrontation with clearly definable front lines. There is no evidence that the plaintiff would be subject to personal persecution or inhumane treatment,” the Supreme Court said.
However, the Supreme Court’s arguments about ceasefires, humanitarian assistance, and the character of the conflict are irrelevant as to whether Timbut has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion – the key question in any asylum case. They would only count insofar as the court was considering broader grounds for protection based on threats arising from indiscriminate violence.
According to Irina Sokolova, Timbut’s lawyer, nine other clients who are all asylum seekers from Syria also received similar judgments from the Supreme Court on the same date.
Russian authorities approved only half of the temporary asylum applications they received from Syrian nationals in 2017. The Supreme Court’s stance on the issue only adds salt to the wounds of Syrians seeking refuge in Russia, a party to the conflict in Syria.
Sokolova told us she has another six Syrian clients awaiting Supreme Court rulings and is ready for more bad news. Despite the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)’s call on all governments not to forcibly return anyone to Syria “as all parts of Syria are reported to have been affected, directly or indirectly, by one or multiple conflicts,” Sokolova fears potential deportations of Syrians from Russia.
Russia’s pretense that the war in Syria is not happening is a cruel joke, considering that it has played a key role in the conflict since 2015. It should instead take responsibility for its actions and at a minimum provide refuge for Syrians fleeing violence.