Russians fleeing military mobilization blocked by Canadian immigration delays
Pavel Slinkov-Albul and his wife have been waiting for their study visa application to be processed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for more than six months.
Long delays in processing immigration applications to Canada have some Russians looking to flee military mobilization in their country fearing the worst. While summonses are multiplying all over Russia, men whose cases have been in process for sometimes more than a year fear being forced to go and fight in Ukraine.
Pavel Slinkov-Albul vividly remembers the day Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Russian reservists. The 35-year-old father had just left on a business trip. As soon as his plane landed, the text messages started ringing on his phone screen.
Even though there were already rumors about the mobilization, we were all in shock, he recalls.
On September 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization targeting 300,000 young reservists to fight in Ukraine. According to the independent Russian-language media Meduza, the Russian authorities plan to conscript 1.2 million people instead.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to neighboring countries, such as Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan. Unlike them, Pavel Slinkov-Albul does not have the means to leave his country and his job.
A young man flees Russia for Georgia.
Since the announcement of the mobilization, he has therefore lived in fear of receiving a summons from the army. He is not a reservist and has no military experience, but he maintains that no one is immune. The Russian authorities have also admitted this week that many men supposed to be exempted have been summoned.
I fear for my future. I'm afraid of going to prison and that the state will destroy my life, says the man, who says he is ready to go to prison to avoid being sent to Ukraine.
His only hope is to obtain his Canadian study visa, which he has been waiting for since the beginning of February. He has contacted the Canadian government, but still does not know when his case will be resolved.
“I have very little hope. »
— Pavel Slinkov-Albul
Toronto immigration lawyer Lev Abramovich says he has been contacted by many Russians in Pavel Slinkov-Albul's situation since the conflict began.
Some of his clients have been waiting for over a year. This is the case of Mariia, an engineer who lives in Moscow. She submitted an application for a study visa to do her doctorate at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, in September 2021. Her spouse hopes to obtain a work permit to accompany her.
It is unfair because we also suffer because of this situation. We don't want to be refugees. We want to contribute [to Canadian society], but we cannot do it because our file is pending, she laments.
The young woman assures that her husband and she will do anything to avoid the army.
I was very young at the time, but I saw the soldiers returning from Afghanistan. These people suffer all their lives, says Mariia, who fears that her partner will suffer the same fate.
In an email statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) explains that many of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have been resolved, but the agency still faces multiple challenges.< /p>
This resulted in a significant backlog of requests to be processed in the first 18 months of the pandemic and increased processing times, says the communications officer of IRCC Jeffrey MacDonald.
He adds that IRCC is dealing with a record number of temporary resident visa applications. For example, the agency says it processed nearly 560,000 initial study permit applications in 2021, up 31% from the record set in 2019.
According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the full processing time for most study visa applications for Russian citizens is 13 weeks, compared to 15 for a work visa.
Lev Abramovich says Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's delays predate the pandemic.
He calls the functioning of the federal agency archaic and argues that it needs to be reformed and made more transparent.
IRCC relies on consulates to do the work, which vary in skill level and operational capacity, the lawyer explains, adding that processing times vary from consulate to consulate.
< p class="e-p">He points out that visa applications for Russian citizens are handled at the Warsaw office, which is currently prioritizing Ukrainian refugee files.
C' is quite normal, but the records of Russian citizens should be transferred elsewhere.
Relatives and acquaintances of Russian reservists mourn the departure of their relatives in the city of Volzhsky , in the Volgograd region, Russia, following the partial mobilization ordered by Vladimir Putin.
“The situation is extremely urgent.
—Lev Abramovich, Immigration Lawyer
He adds that those who have found refuge in neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Armenia or Georgia, often have temporary statuses which make them vulnerable.
A refugee in Georgia with his wife and son since February, Anton Chernyshev recently learned that the Russian authorities have already come to his old address to conscript him.
But for him, who has done his compulsory military service, returning to the Russian army is unthinkable.
He worries about the fate of new recruits on the battlefield and fears the abuse they might suffer at the hands of their brothers in arms.
Anton Chernyshev found refuge in Georgia with his family. He fears being forced to fight in Ukraine if he returns to his country.
“They are going to be considered fresh meat, literally.
— Anton Chernyshev
The family man refers to dedovshchina, a form of extremely brutal institutionalized hazing, which is usually accompanied by physical and psychological abuse and of which new recruits are often victims.
When the soldiers who are already fighting there see them coming, they will make them suffer all their anger and the terrible things they have witnessed, laments the 30-year-old.
L he army has not been modernized. It remains very similar to what it was in the days of the Soviet Union. [New recruits] are going to be used as cannon fodder. I doubt they receive any military training, especially those who have no experience, adds Russian journalist Yevgeny Kiselyov.
Anton Chernyshev hopes that his application for a visa as a skilled worker will be accepted by Canada, but he has already been waiting for more than a year and a half.
I realized that, in my country, I am not seen as a person, but as something that can be sent to war to satisfy someone's ambitions one, he said.