“We felt alienated, foreign, although we were just three hours away from our home,” the 36-year-old Syrian electrician says. He and his 30-year-old wife Sara felt they needed to leave.
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A Syrian friend of Baibers’ living in Russia suggested they go there.
The fact that Baibers is ethnically Circassian helped.
Adygea, one of the Russian republics in the historical Circassian homeland in the Northern Caucuses, had been helping Syrian Circassians find refuge in Russia, a policy in line with its efforts to repatriate descendants of the Circassian tribes ethnically cleansed from the region in the 1860s.
“Life here is relaxed. It is enough that there is no fighting, no war,” says Baibers.
Although he qualifies for refugee status according to the Geneva Convention, which Moscow is a party to, it is not what Baibers and the thousands of Syrians who have sought asylum in Russia received.
In fact, since 2011 when the war started in Syria, only one Syrian national has been granted refugee status in Russia.
And unlike Baibers, who had the help and support of Adygea’s authorities, most Syrians in Russia face an uncooperative, if not outright hostile, asylum system.
“There is a perception that it’s difficult for Syrians to get refugee status in Russia. This is not true. It is actually impossible,” says Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Civic Assistance Committee (CAC), a Moscow-based NGO assisting refugees.
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