'We are being sent to torture'. How a refugee family tries to stay in Luxembourg

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Svetlana (name changed)
Svetlana (name changed)
Svetlana (name changed)
There are three children in our family: one adult and two minors. At the end of August 2022 we left Russia because it was dangerous to stay there due to our social and political views.
Фото: Rodrigo Kugnharski, Unsplash

Фото: Rodrigo Kugnharski, Unsplash

We had our own business, which we ran honorably for about 15 years. But because of our activities, the police officers began to visit us with a simple and clear message: 'Either shut up or close your business'. After a while, our eldest son received a military summon, and then we decided it was time to leave as my husband also had to do his military service. It was not in our plans to leave our family without any men.

France bullied us

After making a decision, we packed our things and went first to St. Petersburg, then to Finland, and from there by plane to Paris. In France, we applied for political asylum, were fingerprinted, submitted the necessary documents, and were given papers to fill out.

At that time there was an urgent housing problem in France. There were a lot of refugees, there was not enough space for everyone, people were literally left on the streets. We started calling the number we were given to ask for a place to at least sleep.

After 5 days we got our way and a shelter was provided. It was a tent camp. Not even a tent camp, a container camp! We were assigned to Nancy. We lived there for the first three months while our asylum claim was being processed.

The process is not quick, and already there, in Nancy, we began to feel a kind of 'special treatment'. We sincerely hoped that everyone would be equal: the country is multinational, there are many refugees, and many people need help. But in reality that was not the case.

There were social workers in this container camp, and we were assigned one. This woman was not very attentive and kind to us. From the beginning there was an extremely tense attitude. We saw how others were treated, we saw how we were treated - we had something to compare with. That was the first call.

The next step for us was to move from Nancy to Longwy on the border with Luxembourg. Longwy is a very remote place and is considered a migrant town. Here we were given a general hostel where all asylum seekers are housed.

Longwy, France. Source: Wikipedia

It was a building designed for factory workers, but now used as a temporary shelter for refugees. It had blocks, each block had 5 rooms. So either 5 families or 5 people could live there. We were given 2 rooms because we had minor children. Our oldest son was not with us at the time, he was going through the process separately.

Our problems have been solved at our expense

We lived there for a year and three months. The neighbors were different. At first we lived next to Turks. They were good neighbors, civilized, everything was fine. Then they moved out and other asylum seekers moved in. And these people didn't seem to realize that we lived in a community.

One of the neighbors was a drug addict. We started talking to the director of the center about it and we felt that they were trying to get us out of the center. I don't know why they would do that, it's cruel.

It started with this neighbor yelling, "Who the hell are you?" and waving a knife in my face. We went to complain to the director. He just shrugged his shoulders and said that technically nothing could be done until the neighbor put a knife to my throat. He said that once that happened, he would call the police. When I asked him how I could call the police with a knife at my throat, he just simply shifted his shoulders.

A little later, another Russian-speaking family moved in with us and we talked to them. They also saw that this person was acting inappropriately and sometimes out of his mind. Now we went together to the director with the request to move out the problem neighbor. After all, it is obvious that it is easier to move one person so that he does not disturb several families at the same time.

The answer was astonishing: "Well, you're the ones who go around complaining, so the problem is yours. Let's move you so you can't come together in the community."

It turned out that our neighbor had also written a complaint, claiming that we had all conspired and created a community and bullied him!

This man was hallucinating, slamming doors to open them for us, banging pots in the hallway, saying that we were following him, looking at his doors.

The funny thing is that he also applied for asylum, was denied, and would soon have to leave one way or another. But nobody cared. The fact that there was a drug addict in the block, who carried a knife, because of which we couldn't let the children go to the toilet without supervision - your problems. That was the second call, much bigger than the first.

If you decide to complain, take it out on yourself

Since we had no peaceful way to fight for our safety, we decided to write a complaint to the OFII. This is an organization that deals with the distribution of refugees. We asked not to contact the director to avoid unnecessary problems. We never got an answer, but we assume that it was the director. That's when we started a lot of bullying, I can't call it anything else. Let me explain what it is.

As I said, we were assigned two rooms per family, and we wanted to make them comfortable. It is good to say that at first I cleaned them all, because the situation there was not very good, to say the least, even the white walls were not always white. I used my own money from the allowance to buy curtains, flowers, planted seedlings, just to have greenery in the room so that it was not so boring to be there. We also improved the common area - the dining room. And this drug addict liked it too, he came and said how cool everything was there. We invited him to join us at the table, we talked to him, we thought things were finally going to get better.

Then something happens, I don't know what - a neighbor who is a drug addict starts complaining to the director. He doesn't like the fact that we have curtains, that we sit in a common room, and so on. As a result of these complaints, social workers started to visit us.

When we were gone, they broke into the rooms - yes, we know they have the right to do that, but it was still possible to negotiate. They broke in, cut the curtains and threw them away. They also told us to throw away the flowers, but we didn't. Then they just took everything out, including the coffee table.

It was only one neighbor. The other neighbor could sing songs at 3 in the morning. We went and talked about the fact that according to the law there are quiet hours when it is forbidden to make noise, and we tried to tell him. We asked him not to sing at night - he started complaining about us too. The most interesting thing is that he also recorded his singing, so he needed absolute silence. And the fact that the children had to get up early for school didn't bother him at all. After he complained, they started to monitor us specifically.

The second family we spoke to turned to the interpreter, and the interpreter told them the following: "Russophobia is quite widespread now, you are not the only ones complaining". That made it even worse. We also left for a reason - we left everything we had, we were fleeing from oppression.

Mock trial decides the fate of the family

The third, not a phone call, but a real bell and the end of our French story, was the decision to accept asylum. As soon as we arrived, we immediately submitted our documents to the OFPRa and waited for an interview. Although it is more like a mini interview with the inspector to find out the details of your background. We prepared thoroughly for this interview, but everything went as if it had been specially set up to make our lives difficult.

Protests in France. Photo: Martti Salmi, Unsplash

The interview was held in Paris. The organization bought us round-trip tickets. Both tickets were on a tight schedule. The thing to remember is this: 

  • France is famous for its constant strikes, and transportation here runs as it wishes, not on schedule;
  • Paris is a huge city, it's easy to get lost, and even if you know the address, it's not easy to find where you want to go.

I asked in advance if OFPRa would be aware that we had such tickets and that we might not be able to make it physically? Especially with two more children, it's more complicated, slower. We were told that the organization would be notified and they would let us go early.

OK, we got there without any major disasters, but things didn't go according to plan from there. The interrogation itself was very strange. My husband and I were interrogated separately, and the questions were as stupid as possible and had nothing to do with our situation. Most of the time they asked about relatives, about parents, about birthdays. They spent only 20-30 minutes asking questions about our problem.

Moreover, people have absolutely no understanding that laws may not be enforced. In their understanding, if there is a law, it means that it works, and it seems that they have not even heard of the Russian context.

We passed the interview, but realized that we wouldn't make it back to the train station in time. Even considering the fact that we already knew the route, physically we would not be able to get there in time. So we ran to the ticket office at the station and said, "Can you change our ticket from one train to another?" We were told that the tickets were non-refundable, so we would have to buy new ones. And we obviously didn't have a lot of money with us because we had bought our first tickets in OFPRa, so we hadn't prepared for this expense.

In the end, we ran to the platform, jumped the turnstile and got on the last train. We'd never done that before in our lives, the kids were shocked, we were shocked, but we couldn't do it any other way. It was January, the last train, and in order not to spend the night at the station, we had to take such measures. On the train we were asked for tickets, we honestly explained the situation, showed tickets from the previous train, for which we were fined.

After these adventures, we lived with the drug addict and singer next door for another six months, and then we were kicked out.

Immediately after that, we decided to appeal and asked for a lawyer. We got a lawyer, but he did not contact us. I send him letters with documents - nothing. The social worker calls - no answer. Out of three calls he probably answered one and that was it. In court he said everything was fine, all the documents were there.

On the day of the trial, we arranged for a video link to Paris so that we didn't have to go there ourselves. We were given a separate room and an interpreter. The trial was supposed to start at 2 o'clock, but we didn't arrive until 3 o'clock. As a result, the lawyer was late, the hearing was postponed, although we had to start earlier, but for some reason another case was heard before us. And at 4:30 the court closes, so there was almost no time left for the whole hearing. We had the impression that they put us at the end on purpose, to get everything done quickly before the court closed, and to quietly abandon us.

There are still a couple of factors to support this theory: 

  • First, we had two cases, mine and my husband's, that were not handled separately, but were combined into one family case, which was not allowed;
  • Second, the questions were again as detached as possible.

And they were so facile and off-topic that at one point my husband and I started looking at each other:

Is this how the courts work? Is this how the fate of individuals and families is judged?

They refused to question the children in court, even though the daughter was already 12 years old and wanted to tell them about her experiences and what she had seen. And she had a lot to tell: the poor girl's stuttering and nervous tics had gotten worse because of all the stress and all those crazy neighbors.

But no, we are not interested in children and we are not interested in detailed questions about political views and threats to life. In fact, from the first few minutes we realized that there would be a refusal. We leave the hall, I am in tears and hysterical, my husband is shaking, the children are terrified. It's just a kind of farce, you can't call it a court.

Of course, the denial did not last long. I go to the social workers and ask what to do next, if we have the right to a lawyer again. We are told that this is a one-time right, that we cannot appeal the decision, and that we have one month to leave the shelter. Where to go, how - they don't care.

As an emergency measure, we wrote a letter directly to Mr. Macron, but we never received a reply.

You won't stay in Luxembourg

After checking out of the hostel, we evaluated the possibilities and decided that with our budget we could only go as far as Luxembourg, since the border was very close and transportation was available.

Here we also applied for asylum and underwent a short interrogation. We were immediately told that there would be a Dublin-3 procedure and that we would most likely be sent back. Although it is not quite clear, because we received two rejections in France, so we would be on the street, we would have no protection, no resources, and no way to stay in the country legally.

Theoretically, Luxembourg could take over the case if they wanted to. But we were immediately told that it would be "Dublin", given pamphlets and sent to the refugee camp in Kirchberg where we now live.

The Dublin-3 procedure works like this:

  • The receiving country will look to see which country you applied for asylum in or which country you have a visa for;
  • The country contacts that state and asks if they will agree to take us back.

And the most delusional thing about this situation is that France has agreed to take us in! They first gave us two rejections, and now they agree to take us in for a review of the case, even though we already have no right to apply for international protection there.

It seems like an opportunity for more bullying: to force us to come back to the place where we had our worst year, only to deport us because that's what the law says should happen to us.

And the funny thing is that they will take us to the first bus stop in France, drop us off, and then we will be free to do whatever we want. No one will pick us up, no one will provide us with transportation, protection and shelter. This is not a horror story: our acquaintances have experienced it, our eldest son has experienced it, it all exists.

And it is a new stress for the children because they have to go back there, they have to go through the whole nightmare again. Now at least they live normally: they go to school regularly, they do the activities they did before. In France, there was none of that. There, classes were regularly cancelled, and even when my daughter went to school, she was bullied. Only she and another Russian-speaking student were bullied. And they took it to the absurd: for example, they kicked her out of the toilet for brushing her hair!

Needless to say, there is no desire to return. So we want to stay here for the peace of mind and the safety of the children.

RUHelp asbl is committed to supporting Svetlana's family at this critical time and calls on all stakeholders to help ensure that this family can remain in Luxembourg where they have begun to rebuild their lives in safety and tranquility.

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Authors: Aleksandr