April 24, 2020 / 10:10 AM / a month ago

Coronavirus lockdown pushes refugees in Russia to the brink

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Khatera Noory, an Afghan refugee in Moscow, says her family of six would starve without charity food donations.

Noory’s husband Zabiullah used to have a steady job as a labourer in a fruit market, but with lockdown measures against the coronavirus in place and trade mostly closed, a week can now pass without a day’s work for him.

When there is work, Zabiullah brings home just 500 roubles ($6.70) a day – half as much as it used to be and not nearly enough to pay the rent for the family’s small apartment outside Moscow.

“Under the quarantine people’s difficulties have doubled,” Noory said, adding that she is too scared to go out even for shopping as her family does not have legal papers or medical insurance.

Noory is one of up to a 200,000-strong refugee population in Russia, according to the Civic Assistance Committee, an NGO providing legal help and humanitarian aid to refugees and migrants.

Only 487 refugees in Russia have official status and papers that allow legal employment, according to Rosstat, the governmental statistics agency.

Residents in the Moscow area are only allowed outside to buy food or medicine nearby, receive medical treatment, walk the dog or take out the rubbish. Those stopped by police in the street can be fined up to 40,000 roubles (434.37 pounds)if they do not provide an official registration address - something unobtainable for the majority of refugees and migrants.

Last week, authorities introduced a digital travel permit system, which made getting around close to impossible for paperless non-residents.

According to the Civic Assistance Committee, up to 50 families in need call their hotline daily with requests for food and other support compared to just several per week before the lockdown.

The committee said most of those calling have lost their jobs and say they have no food, no money to buy medicine and fear they will lose their homes as they cannot pay the rent.

“Our waiting list is growing every day,” the head of the committee, Svetlana Gannushkina, said.

More than 400 refugee families with children are now receiving food donations from the NGO, including more than 100 asylum seekers from Syria, Gannushkina said.

Reporting by Peter Scott and Aleksander Reshetnikov; Additional reporting and writing by Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Giles Elgood

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