The Kurdish family of six fled Syria to escape the violence of the civil war
They're stuck in the Moscow airport because they can't enter Russia legally and are afraid to go home
Hassan Abdo Ahmed Mohammed, his wife and four children want to settle in Russia, but the government says their visas are fake. Returning home is out of the question because of the dangers there.
So the family set up camp inside Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and wait while their lawyer tries to untangle the red tape.
Their home for the last 50 days: A barren corner of the airport terminal overlooking the tarmac. Air mattresses are spread on the floor for napping. Suitcases have been pushed against the walls. They can’t cook, so UNICEF brings them food. They use airport restrooms.
With no doors to keep out passersby, they family stretched a cord to mark their space. A hand-written sign says, “Please don’t touch our thing (sic) becaus (sic) we are living here.”
The situation improved a little bit recently. The United Nations and a non-governmental organization convinced Russian authorities to let the family spend nights in a hotel located inside the airport terminal, Mohammed told CNN.
Spending days on a hard floor
“After 44 days of sleeping on the ground of the airport, in the cold, they decided to put us in a hotel,” he said. “The condition of the room is not great, and they put us in the smoking area.”
But they must spend their days on the the hard floor of the terminal, hearing every announcement on the blaring public address system and enduring the looks of travelers passing by.
It’s not a good place for the couple’s children: three boys, ages 8 to 13, and a 3-year-old daughter.
“We have not seen the sun for 49 days,” Mohammed said to CNN.
Conditions were so bad that Mohammed’s wife became sick and had to spend two weeks in a hospital, he said.
“We were not allowed to see her, even her kids,” he said. “She is back now, but she still does not feel well.”
Family has relatives in Russia
The situation sounds like a not-so-amusing spinoff of Steven Spielberg’s 2004 movie “The Terminal,” about a man from Eastern Europe who becomes stuck at JFK International Airport in New York because a revolution in his home country rendered his passport invalid.
A similar, real-life situation happened when Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker who fled the United States, spent more than a month living in the Moscow Airport before being granted asylum.
Mohammed and his family are Syrian Kurds who fled a civil war that has left 300,000 people dead and forced 10 million people from their homes.
While thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other Mideast nations flowed into Europe, Mohammed and his family headed for Russia. He said they chose that country because his wife’s sister and cousin live there.
After leaving Syria, they ended up in Ibril, a Kurdish city in north Iraq. They applied for visas to Russia and flew to Istanbul and then to Moscow. That’s when their forward progress came to a halt.
“When we arrived the airport in Moscow, we were told to wait for a security check,” Mohammed said. “After few days we were told that our visas are fake.”
Russia wanted to deport the family back to Syria. But “if I go back, the regime will kill me and my family,” Mohammed said.
He asked for permission to return to Istanbul or Ibril, but the Russians refused, he said.
Tied up in red tape
Mohammed thinks Russia’s close ties with the embattled Syrian government are interfering with his plans to enter Russia.
“Russia has a very strong relation with the Syrian regime, and they don’t want to encourage Syrians to leave the country,” he said.
Mohammed’s lawyer said the Syrian government checked out their passports and said they were authentic. Russian authorities are now investigating the the passports, the lawyer said, and should come to a decision soon.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the country has taken in 1 million refugees from Ukraine and accepted 8,000 people from Syria in September.
Unlike some European countries, Russia has not relaxed its immigration laws for the recent wave of Mideastern immigrants, Zakharova said, and will not change the laws for this family. People wanting to enter the country must have proper documentation, she said.
The family has mounted a small-scale media campaign to make their case.
“Hi, my name is Raynass Mohammed,” the 13-year-old son says on a video. “We are from Syria. We are living in an airport, and this is our life. We want you to help us, please. The airport is very cold for sleeping and for sitting.”
Mohammed can only fume – and keep waiting.
“Officials at the airport treated me like a terrorist,” he said. “Do I look like a terrorist? Is this how they treat a father surrounded by his wife and his four kids, all desperate to live a normal life?”
CNN’s Nic Robertson contributed to this report.