Alfa Fellow, Europe and Central Asia Division
Every child in Russia has the right to an education. Russia’s Constitution says so, the federal law on education says so, and Russia’s obligations under international law say so.
Despite this, children of asylum seekers, undocumented migrants, and foreign citizens unable to provide proof of residence are being turned away and expelled from schools in and around Moscow.
In January 2014, the Ministry of Education and Science issued an ambiguously worded order, known as decree 32. Whilst stating the only reason for denying a school place can be due to a lack of space, it also details that proof of registration is needed for foreign children. Some – including the Moscow Department of Education, some local authorities, and some schools – have exploited this ambiguity to bar from school any child who lacks proof of residency.
But this interpretation is wrong, as Russia’s Supreme Court made clear in a decision in 2015 – there is no such requirement.
Only direct intervention by human rights defenders seems to be able to change the mind of resolute headmasters. In Moscow, Civic Assistance Committee, a leading independent Russian rights group that protects the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, plays an active role providing affected families informational and legal support. Since 2014, 82 families have approached Civic Assistance with complaints of schools refusing their children without registration of residence – 76 were resolved through the group’s efforts. The remaining families are either receiving legal help from Civic Assistance to overturn the decision in the courts or have left Russia.
The experience of one family from Afghanistan is typical. When they first tried to enroll their daughter, Samira, into school in Moscow, they were refused a place due to a lack of registration. Only through the direct intervention of Konstantin Troitskiy, an activist with Civic Assistance, who went in person to explain the illegality of the situation, was the headmaster persuaded to take her. “Without Konstantin’s help there is no way she would have been accepted,” Samira’s father told me. Unfortunately, their ordeal is not yet over. A change in headmaster and a fresh demand for proof of registration now means that Samira once again faces the possibility she’ll be excluded from an education.
This has to stop. Russian authorities should send an unequivocal message to school officials at all levels that proof of registration is not a requirement and cannot be used as an excuse for denying children access to education.
This article was published on HRW's website on February 9, 2017.