"If you make me leave you are sentencing me to death"

Irina Filatova, 29, who arrived in Sweden at 12, faces deportation after the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) ruled she must return to Russia. Boliden is the only home her children, Leo and Alisa, have ever known. "This is a death sentence for me," she says, her voice heavy with fear. "I've spoken out against the regime, and that's illegal in Russia."

Irina Filatova, who has lived in Sweden since she was 12 years old, is to be deported to Russia, despite her public activism against Russia's warfare.

Irina Filatova, who has lived in Sweden since she was 12 years old, is to be deported to Russia, despite her public activism against Russia's warfare.

Foto: Wilhelm Sandelin Anton

Skellefteå2024-05-06 16:15

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Irina Filatova of Boliden has become a vocal critic of the war and the Russian regime. She's been active on social media, sharing articles and texts against the war, and has donated financially to support Ukraine. 

Irina's activism extends beyond online actions; she was also involved with Alexei Navalny's foundation FBK and even protested outside the Russian embassy in Stockholm during the March elections. Her voice against the regime was captured in an SVT broadcast.

Irina Filatova, who has lived in Sweden since she was 12 years old, is to be deported to Russia, despite her public activism against Russia's warfare.

Her activism has fueled her anxieties about returning to Russia.

– Migrationsverket doesn't think what I've done is enough proof of danger, she says, her voice laced with frustration.

– How much is enough? A million dollars? Half a million followers?

Her fears are not unfounded. A Russian-American woman was recently arrested for treason after donating a mere $50 to a Ukrainian aid organization.

Irina Filatova lives in Boliden with her children Alisa, 7, Leo, 9, and partner.

Irina is certain she's wanted in Russia. Just days after her Stockholm protest, police visited her grandmother's home in Russia, looking for her.

– This confirmed my fears, she says.

– When she told me, I got very scared, but I thought as long as I'm in Sweden, nothing can happen.

– A person like me can just vanish into the darkness, into the fog, she says, meaning that it doesn't matter to the Russian regime how widespread or limited her activism has been, they can "disappear" her

She has appealed Migrationverket's decision, but has been denied the opportunity to be heard again when the case is reviewed. She hopes that they will come to the same conclusion that she has: if she returns to Russia, it will be to prison.

According to Russian law, Irina Filatova risks up to 20 years in prison if she returns to Russia.

Li Bennich-Björkman is a professor of political science at the Institute of Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University, and says Irina's concerns are justified:

– I would think that her assessment is correct.

Bennich-Björkman says it is difficult to determine the extent to which Russia is arresting people for criticizing the war, because all information coming from Russia must be considered propaganda.

Sweden is the only place Irina has ever truly called home. Having spent most of her life here, she dreams of a normal life – attending university, pursuing a career, and raising her children.

– School and high school here shaped my future, she reflects.

– I know I have the potential to succeed, but this situation robs me of that chance.

Irina's path to stability has been fraught with challenges. She arrived in Sweden with her mother, but they were never granted residence permits during her childhood. As a young adult, the weight of responsibility for their immigration status fell on her shoulders. Unfortunately, the news of her asylum denial coincided with the discovery of her first pregnancy, while she was in Russia.

A glimmer of hope arrived in the form of a two-year visa. Returning to Sweden felt like a safe haven, and with the birth of her second child soon after, Irina believed her future was secure.

Alisa, 7, has put glitter in her hair because her mom told her someone will be taking pictures during the day. Leo, 9, who loves science in school, asks Norran's reporter to try to take a picture of the moon.

– Looking back, it wasn't the wisest decision, but life rarely follows a perfect plan. I was young and scared.

When the visa expired after two years Irina says that external pressures and the fear of separation from her children prevented her from seeking help from the authorities. 

While acknowledging she broke Swedish law by overstaying her visa, Irina struggles with the Migrationsverket's reasoning. Their decision, which Norran has seen, states, "The provided circumstances don't offer a strong enough case for persecution based on political beliefs."

– I don't jaywalk or litter, she argues, her voice raw with frustration.

– According to them, I'm a criminal What exactly qualifies as persecution in their eyes?

Despite the precarious situation, Irina has always strived to legalize her status.

– Living undocumented has been incredibly difficult but it was preferable to bringing my children back to Russia.

The children, born and raised entirely in Sweden, lack citizenship in any country. This technicality wouldn't result in their deportation, but Irina fears a de facto separation from them. 

The children, Alisa and Leo, have grown up in Boliden and have no other place to call home.

Sweden upholds the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet their father's deportation leaves their future uncertain. Tears welling up, Irina confesses her helplessness:

– I don't know what will become of them. All I want is to provide them with a safe and secure future.

The agency also clarified that a child's best interests are considered, but the decision doesn't always have to align with those interests.

Tears stream down Irina's face as she talks about her children.

According to Irina Filatova, the Swedish Migration Agency is wrong in assessing that her activism has not been sufficient to warrant imprisonment in Russia.

– The thought of being separated from them is unbearable, she chokes out.

– If it were just me, I wouldn't care. But now, I have these two precious lives depending on me.

Despite the immense challenges, Irina harbors no regrets about coming to Sweden.

– It's the greatest gift I've ever received, she says, her voice filled with gratitude.

– My mother brought me here and showed me a world of possibilities, a world far better than anything I could have imagined.

Her only wish is to stay in Sweden and build a normal life for her children.

I don't need a castle or shooting stars, she says simply.

– I'm healthy and capable. All I ask for is the chance to stay. Hope, after all, is the last thing to die.

"I'm extremely afraid of being separated from my children. I wouldn't have cared as much if it was just about me. But now it's not just me, I have two children that I have to take care of," said Irina.
Migrationsverket's view

Migrationsverket Declines Comment on Specific Case, Outlines General Asylm Policies

Migrationsverket, Sweden's Migration Agency, has declined to comment on Irina Filatova's specific case, citing that the decision is under appeal. However, they provided general information on their asylum policies in response to broader questions.

Asylum Policy for Russian Nationals

Migrationsverket does not have a specific policy for asylum seekers from Russia. Each application is assessed individually based on the risk of persecution or harm upon return to their home country. The assessment considers updated and relevant country information about the situation in Russia.

Illegality and Asylum Status

An individual's illegal presence in Sweden does not necessarily affect their eligibility for asylum status. The assessment focuses on the potential risk they face upon returning to their home country, not on their immigration history in Sweden.

Asylum for Minors vs. Adults

Each asylum case is assessed individually, regardless of the applicant's age. The focus is on the individual's risk upon return, not on their age or when they arrived in Sweden. For residence permits based on compelling circumstances (not asylum), children generally have a higher chance of approval than adults.

Balancing Child Protection with Asylum Decisions

There are misconceptions about the role of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in asylum decisions. The CRC is Swedish law and must be considered when making decisions affecting children. This includes ensuring children's right to be heard and assessing what is in their best interest (both short-term and long-term).

However, there is no requirement that the decision must always align with the child's best interest. Considering the child's best interest does not always mean the decision will be what the child wants. Migrationsverket must balance the child's needs with the law and the criteria for granting residence permits in Sweden.