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Is France cracking down on Chechen asylum seekers? | News France

As a key witness in a rare case brought against the Chechen authorities for kidnapping and torture, Magomed Gadaev fled Russia in 2010.

He had sought refuge in France, but on April 9, France expelled the 36-year-old Chechen asylum seeker.

A deportation order issued by the French Interior Ministry on April 9 – the day of his expulsion – claimed that Gadaev was “deeply rooted in the radical Chechen Islamist movement” and “likely to commit violent action” on French soil. .

His deportation was deemed “of absolute urgency”.

But rights groups, including Amnesty International, denounced the move, saying it violated international law and placed Gadaev at “a high risk of torture”.

After landing in Moscow, he traveled to the remote Siberian town of Novy Urengoy, where his brother lives.

There he asked for police protection.

But Gadaev was instead handed over to Chechen law enforcement.

Since then he has reportedly been charged by Chechen authorities with illegal possession of weapons following a recent search of his father’s home – which he left 11 years ago – and is currently being held in Chechnya pending his trial.

“The [French] The ministry did everything it could to prevent me from appealing the decision, ”Gadaev’s lawyer Arnaud Toulouse told Al Jazeera, referring to the limited time he had to respond to the complaint. deportation order.

So far, three French courts had ruled that Gadaev should not be deported to Russia.

Gadaev’s wife Maret, speaking of Limoges, where she lives with the couple’s five children, told Al Jazeera: “I can’t believe he’s in their hands. I keep thinking it’s a scary dream, that he will come back to the room.

She is currently waiting to know if she and her children can stay in France.

On April 14, five days after his expulsion, a short video of Gadaev was posted by several Instagram accounts that support the current Chechen leadership.

A voice asks Gadaev to say that he is alive and that he has not been beaten. Gadaev does and tries to smile.

“ People who testify generally do not survive ”

Gadaev, who fought Russian forces in the Second Chechen War, was illegally imprisoned in a riot police (OMON) basement in Chechnya for four months at the end of 2009 – a common practice, according to Oleg Orlov , member of the board of directors of the Russian NGO Memorial.

“These men were ready to die,” he told Al Jazeera. “They were held until their beards grew so they could be slaughtered in the mountains as insurgents.”

Orlov believes that the charges against Gadaev in Chechnya have been fabricated and that he risks torture and a long sentence, if not death.

“I’m afraid that [the Chechen authorities] will make him an example for anyone who dares to speak out against them, ”he said.

Relatives of Islam Umarpashev, imprisoned with Gadaev, lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights and the two men were released in April 2010.

Umarpashev then lodged a complaint with the Russian investigation committee.

Like most Chechens fleeing to Europe, Gadaev first sought asylum in Poland, which he was granted.

But after receiving threats, he left for France with his family in December 2012. He testified from France remotely against the Chechen special forces.

“People who testify to torture and give the names of those involved usually do not survive,” Adam Dervishev, a Chechen refugee based in France, told Al Jazeera.

As an apparent example, in 2006 Umar Israilov, a former bodyguard of Russian leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, and his father, both filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights against the governments. Russian and Chechen.

The case was dropped after the Israilovs went into hiding. Umar Israilov was assassinated in Vienna in 2009.

Meanwhile, Chechen asylum seekers have encountered increasing difficulties in seeking asylum in Europe.

Polish border guards regularly refuse entry to Chechen asylum seekers at the border with Belarus.

And under the Dublin Regulation, a European Union regulation that determines the states responsible for determining asylum claims, third countries such as Austria or Germany have started to deny asylum to Chechens who passed through Poland.

“The authorities find it difficult to distinguish between who really has asylum and who does not,” said Olga Gulina, a Berlin-based migration consultant.

She explained that German authorities often inquire about internal asylum in Russia.

“Why doesn’t internal asylum work in a country that has 11 time zones? they ask.”

Repression intensifies after beheading attack

Shortly after his arrival in France in 2012, Gadaev was “stuck S” (“inscribed on the“ S ”register)” – in other words, reported by the police as a serious threat to national security, according to his lawyer, Toulouse.

Toulouse claimed that the case against his client relied heavily on “white notes”, unsigned and undated reports issued by French intelligence agencies, which accused Gadaev of knowing two men suspected of having been radicalized.

But the crackdown on “S” register people intensified after the horrific daylight beheading attack on schoolteacher Samuel Paty, by 18-year-old Chechen refugee Abdullakh Anzorov, October 16, 2020 .

Two days later, the French Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, announced that 231 foreign nationals known to the security services to be entered in the register would be expelled.

A French policeman stands next to a portrait of the French teacher Samuel Paty displayed on the facade of the Opéra Comédie in Montpellier on October 21, 2020, during a national tribute [Pascal Guyot/AFP] (AFP)

Ten days after the murder, Darmanin flew to Russia to meet with the Russian Interior Minister and discuss the deportations.

Darmanin has since provided regular updates on its Twitter account.

On January 26, he tweeted that 113 of these foreign nationals had left France, 83 placed under house arrest or detention center and 35 imprisoned.

At the time of publication, the French Interior Ministry had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

The Interior Ministry’s removal decision regarding Gadaev, which Al Jazeera saw, claims that Gadaev was involved in various violent incidents, that he was convicted of assaulting his ex-wife in Belgium and hit someone in a detention center.

“Yes. Gadaev was sentenced in Belgium following a violent argument with his partner in 2017, four years ago. [The ministry] put everything they could into the distance measure, things that have no connection with terrorism, ”said Toulouse.

The lawyer added that Gadaev had been placed in an administrative detention center last year, like all those registered in the “S” register who had lost their residence permit following an order from the Interior Ministry, after Paty’s murder.

Toulouse rejected the charge against Gadaev for violence against a fellow detainee, in order to prolong the detention of his client.

According to the law, administrative detention cannot last more than three months.

Gadaev then served a three-month prison sentence.

“Hitting a guy in a detention center doesn’t make him a terrorist,” the lawyer said.

Pascale Chaudot, who heads the Chechnya Committee, said she saw around five Chechen files placed on the “S” register, which included blank notes.

“When I saw the files, I was amazed. There is a description of the facts without explanation. Mr. So-and-so met a person on whom there is also a connection in such and such a city at that time. With each description you think, okay, is there something else? ” she said.

For the future, more Chechens registered on the S register risk being deported, according to Shamil Albakov, the spokesperson for the Assembly of Chechens in Europe, co-founded by Gadaev.

“At the moment, we have about 20 people who have been entered in the S register and who have been refused asylum or have had their asylum status withdrawn,” he told Al Jazeera. “Among the men who were expelled, some are in prison in Chechnya with new charges against them, some have disappeared.”

Other European countries are also deporting Chechens, raising concerns among diaspora communities.

In December 2020, members of the Chechen minority in Austria protested against the mass expulsion of 27 Russian nationals.

According to Husein Ishkanov, who heads the Austrian organization Ichkeria, the majority of these deportees were young men of Chechen descent who had been convicted of a minor crime, such as theft or disorderly conduct – and had served time. prison sentence – who had lost their refugee status. Therefore.

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