Appeal (Netherlands) regarding suicide of Russian citizens in 2023

Photo from social media LGBT World Beside

To The Ministry of Justice and Security (Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid) Copy to: Secretary of State for Justice and Security, Mr. Eric van der Burg

Dear Ms. Yeşilgöz-Zegerius,

We would like to express our deep concern and distress regarding the suicide of Mikhail Zubchenko, born in 1999, at the asylum seekers' center AZC ECHT (Pepinusbrug 2, 6102 RJ, Echt). The information about the man's death is spread in Dutch and Russian media.

We address the authorities of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and note that this case is not the first of its kind. At the end of the February 2023, a 21-year-old transgender person from Russia, Hina Zakharova, awaiting resolution of her asylum status, committed suicide in the refugee camp in Drachten (Noorderend 2, 9207 AL, Drachten). In the first days of 2024 another transgender person, Antonina Babkina, took her own life at the Enforcement and Supervision Location (HTL) in Hoogeveen.

It would not be possible to establish the root cause of these tragic events and prevent future suicides without a full and detailed investigation of these cases. We implore you to conduct such investigations and draw actionable conclusions from them.

Even before we hear the outcome of such investigations, we can identify a few factors that are likely to have contributed to the distressed emotional state of the victims. These are:

According to the law, the asylum application must be processed within 6 months. In practice it is not uncommon that asylum seekers have to await the decision for longer than a year. Having to wait without an indication of a target date induces the feeling of hopelessness and despair. Reportedly, LGBTQ+ people suffer from bullying and oftentimes outright hatred by their fellow asylum seekers. The administration of the asylum seekers’ centra has only limited means to contain such harassment, and those means turn out to be insufficient. Asylum seekers who are in dire need of psychological help or mental healthcare services are facing long waiting times. The language barrier makes the situation even worse. In extreme cases, people turn to using drugs for want of prescription antidepressants. Although asylum seekers are entitled to legal protection, many of them are reluctant to stand up for their rights, believing that these actions might further delay their case decision. After 6 months of waiting, the asylum seekers obtain the right to find employment in the Netherlands, even if their case has not been processed yet. For many, the ability to contribute to the host country’s economy has great emotional value. In practice, asylum seekers trying to find work are faced with bureaucratic obstacles, such as the inability to obtain a social security number (BSN). This undoubtedly aggravates their emotional distress.

The European Union declared its readiness to open doors to migrants seeking political asylum. We believe that member states should fulfil their obligations towards refugees, especially if their national policy aims at the integration of both newcomers and asylum seekers. Sadly, LGBTQ+ people do not have the option to return to their country of origin due to the risk of serious human rights violations and persecution.

We urge you to initiate an investigation into the deaths of asylum seekers and refugees in the Netherlands, examine the circumstances leading to suicides and elaborate the measures to prevent such tragedies. We are open to discussing all the points raised in this appeal and we look forward to receiving your feedback on them.

This appeal is supported by the following organisations (associations):

  1. Saša Belik, director of the Movement of conscientious objectors
  2. Cyril Schmidt, secretary of the Free Russia NL foundation
  3. Elena Kotenochkina, Movement “Peace. Progress. Human Rights” named after Sakharov
  4. Yanina Sartison, Free Russians e.V
  5. Youth Democratic Movement Vesna
  6. "Deputies of Peaceful Russia", Association
  7. Dilya Gafurova, Head of Sphere Foundation
  8. Evelina Chayka, Board Member European Queer Alliance of PostOst Community (EQUAL PostOst)