As the end of FIFA World Cup draws nearer, Russian authorities have reminded foreign football fans, including those from Africa, participating in the month-long event, to leave voluntarily or face deportation.
Head of Russian Federation of Migrants (RFM), Vadim Kozhinov, a non-government organization that deals with foreign migrants disclosed that “due to the simplified visa regime introduced for the period of the World Cup, some foreign citizens want to take advantage of the legal entry into the territory of the Russian Federation to stay in Russia.”
However, such foreign citizens should understand that, starting from July 26, they would be in Russia illegally and accordingly, such citizens would be deported from the country, he warned. “If among these citizens there are those who have previously been deported, they will be sentenced to imprisonment,” Kozhinov said.
The warning comes as both local and foreign media have reported a number of foreign fans, notably from Asia and Africa, attempting to cross borders illegally into Belarus, Poland, Latvia and Finland to Europe.
Kommersant Daily, a Russian newspaper, has reported that some foreign nationals from Cameroon, Pakistan, Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Morocco have been arrested for illegal crossing near Poland border, last week.
Foreign fans have taken advantage of this opportunity to find work abroad or get political asylum. According to human rights activists, foreigners who found themselves in the Russian Federation without money, housing and the opportunity to return home, were turning to them every day with requests for all kinds of assistance.
Yulia Siluyanova, Coordinator of the “Alternative”, a human rights organization, said there had been complaints and requests for assistance from several citizens of Nigeria.
“Every day we take three or four people, but it is obvious that they are much more. The fact is that the Nigerian Embassy knows about us and immediately sends its citizens here for help.”
When GNA contacted, the Nigerian Embassy, the officials said, they were using all possible resources to help their fellow citizens. Nearly a hundred Nigerian football fans could not fly home due to scam, according to reports.
Maria Zakharova, Spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Ministry (MFA), said at a media briefing that “winding up with no money by the end of the World Cup is not something unique to Nigerians, but all foreign fans who have come to Russia for the World Cup.”
She said that “unfortunately, it is quite natural (and we can confirm this) that when this large and very long sporting event ends all of them must leave the Russian Federation, because the FAN IDs will no longer work.”
“Some fans might wound up without money or return tickets by the end of their stay. This is also natural. Unwanted, but natural. And this is really a problem to be solved by fans, first of all, together with their countries’ diplomatic missions and consulates,” she explained.
Zakharova finally gave a firm warning: “We cannot rule out that some foreign guests are hoping to cross the Russian border, one way or another, often illegally, into a European country during the World Cup. We cannot rule this out. If this action is deemed illegal, then corresponding agencies will take the necessary administrative measures.”
To enter Russia during the tournament, football fans needed to get a “Fan ID”, which was free of charge after buying a ticket for the match. “This document gives the right to multiple visa-free entry, from June 04, until July 15, inclusive, but one must leave the country before July 26.”
The easing of the visa regime had given cause for concern by countries bordering Russia. Lithuania, in June, officially announced the strengthening of border control for fear that the citizens of third countries, using the championship, would try to get into the European Union (EU), illegally.
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, before the start of the FIFA tournament, said in his welcome video address posted to Kremlin website that he wanted the event to be considered as a global family celebration, filled with passion and emotions.
He expressed the hope that all participants and guests were going to have an unforgettable experience, not only watching the matches of their favourite teams and admiring the players’ skills, but also getting to know Russia, learning about its identity and culture, its unique history and natural diversity, its hospitable, sincere and friendly people.
“We have done our best to ensure that all of our guests – the athletes, the staff and, of course, the fans – feel at home in Russia. We have opened both our country and our hearts to the world.”