The opposition, human rights defenders, and journalists are labeled and persecuted as agents in Russia. Some part of them are fleeing to Georgia, however, the border guards are denying them entry. Even those who are granted entry are not assured of being allowed to return if they leave.
Filipp Dzyadko was anticipating something wrong to happen. On February 17th, in Berlin, the Russian writer was telling a German journalist about how afraid he was he would be made to leave Georgia. Exactly that happened the following day.
The writer had been living in Georgia since March 2022. As he states, “every time I was coming back, [the border guards] were asking me to wait and persuading me that the system had frozen. We were even joking that it was impossible for the system to stop working for the same person over and over again”.
On February 18th, upon arriving from Vienna, he was told the same - the system “froze”. But this time, for almost twenty hours. In the end, he was denied entry to Georgia without explaining the reasons.
The reason for rejecting the writer at the border, other than criticizing Putin, could have been his brother, Tikhon Dzyadko. The latter is a journalist and a reporter at Dozhd (“Rain”) - a Russian opposition TV channel. Dozhd, currently based in the Netherlands, has been labeled as a foreign agent in Russia and had its website blocked within Russian bounds.
As of now, Filipp Dzyadko is in Yerevan, and can only guess if he will be ever allowed back in Georgia. Not to mention, his family is still residing in Tbilisi.
“The behavior of the Georgian government is insulting. I have been publicly speaking out about my antiwar standpoint ever since the war even started. I cannot understand why I should not be allowed to enter Georgia”, - says Filipp.
Usually, the Georgian government does not comment on the fact that Putin’s defiers are denied entry. However, the Minister of Internal affairs has responded to Fillip Dzyadko’s case. “I was told that some Russian citizen was not allowed in, as if that would cause the country to collapse”, - he reported on February 21st.
Without any reason
His case is just one of many that suggest a consistent pattern of border denials for those who criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin. An activist and artist Olga Borisova, journalist Vasily Krestyaninov, photographer David Frenkel, politician Lyubov Sobol, journalist Mikhail Fishman… - they have all been swept up in the same situation at some point.
All of them are foreign agents or work for a foreign agent organization. For a whole year, those who are criticizing Putin - so agents and their families - have been dealing with similar issues at the Georgian border.
Russian citizens were denied entry even when the war had not started, except with an explanation. Most of them had breached the Georgian law of occupation, meaning that they had already entered South Ossetia or Abkhazia from Russian territories.
However, now the border guards are not explaining the motives for refusing Putin’s defiers, for which they have a formal justification. The government is not making the number of denied Russians in 2022 public. It is only known that in January-July 2022, 3036 people had been rejected at the Georgian border.
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, tens of thousands of Russian citizens have entered Georgia - in total in 2022, more than 1.4 million. The portion of this number that has remained within Georgia is not reported. The Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that, as of October, the number is 122 thousand, however, the statistic has not been brought up to date since.
Most people came in August 2022 (tourist month) and September. That is, when mobilization was announced in Russia and the state threatened to take men into the army.
According to recent data from the Data for Crisis portal, a joint initiative between the Georgian non-governmental organization Forset* and the German DW Akademie, over 1,200,000 posts have been analyzed on various social networks since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Among the findings, it has been revealed that Russian migrants face numerous challenges when attempting to cross the Georgian border. Specifically, those who attempt to enter the country from Armenia are often refused entry. Border guards are known to ask about the purpose of their visit to Georgia, their intended duration of stay, and whether they have served in the Russian armed forces. Families are frequently separated during these encounters, with some members being granted entry while others are not.
Complaints in the European Court of Justice
A Russian human rights defender, Anna Rivina has been residing in Georgia since the war in Ukraine started. Ever since then, she is regularly held back by the guards at the border. Though, before while traveling “everything was fine”.
“I first came in March, after the war had started. My husband and I were the first to get off the plane, but we were held back for the longest time”. Such an issue repeated five times.
Anna Rivina’s organization Насилию.нет (No to violence) helps and protects women from domestic abuse. The organization was declared a foreign agent in Russia, in 2021. And on February 10th, 2023 as for Anna Rivina herself. She was denied entry to Georgia on February 12th.
The border guards did not just dismiss her without a reason but also “lied to me and did not provide me with any formal documentation… a lot of people are scared of leaving the country. Crossing the border is even perceived as a lottery now”, - as Anna states, who is now leading her organization from Israel.
So she plans to file a complaint in court. She appealed the decision to the Ministry of Internal Affairs but hasn't received a response. The case is expected to go through all three instances of the court in Georgia before finally reaching the European Court.
As she states, "When a country moves towards European integration and does the opposite, it should be recorded in the jurisdiction of the European Union and the Council of Europe."
Apartment and a cat
As this text was in writing, Sasha Shvedova - another Dozhd journalist was denied entry to Georgia. Her story follows the same pattern as the few described above. Shvedova relocated to Georgia in March 2022 and has faced repeated delays at the border before ultimately being refused entry without explanation. As a result, the journalist has relocated to Riga, the capital city of Latvia. Left behind in Tbilisi are Shvedova's rented apartment and cat.
The multimedia material utilized data from the portal dataforcrisis.com, which assists journalists in covering migration from Russia. This material was created as a part of ForSet's Data for Crisis Fellowship, with the support of DW Akademie.
Authors: Sandro Gvindadze, Nastasia Arabuli, Tekle Ortoidze
The original story was published at https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/32322694.html