“I do not have exact information, but it seems that more than 4,000 persons are in queue in the embassy to return to Armenia”, T.A. tells HCA Vanadzor. On April 1, 2020, RA citizen T.A. applied to HCA Vanadzor and is still in the Russian Federation. We touched upon her problem in our previous publication. “On April 1, when I first went to the embassy, the guard told me that 2,000 persons were already registered. There was a huge crowd there. I suppose there will be more people now”.
The 23-year-old girl, who visited her sister living in Aleksandrov city near Moscow, cannot return to Armenia due to the situation caused by coronavirus.
“I came here by a ticket that cost 6,000 rubles. People came here with 2,000-3,000 rubles, while now, prices of tickets vary between 18,000 - 240,000 rubles (AMD 108,000-240,000 respectively). These are absurd prices. I have seen many people in the embassy with children in their arms, they want to return, but cannot afford to buy tickets. I myself badly want to return”.
She assesses the attempts made by the Armenian side as insifficient. She says that when she went to the embassy to get registered, she witnessed badly organized work, which lacked a specific priority, “There are persons with disabilities, multi-children families, and there is no-one to say who is the first to be transferred back to the motherland. I am in a safer situation, I’m in my sister’s house, and we have the daily bread. But there’s a woman, who’s a hairdresser and who doesn’t have a husband, and she’s in an uncertain situation with her child. The hairdresser’s was closed, she could not pay her rent and had to return, but there was no precise regulation in the embassy. Though hotels have been provided, it is still uncertain as to how long people can stay there. It was obvious that men who had come abroad to work were the first to return, they were the ones who managed to stay in the airport overnight and queued to get tickets. But not everyone can stay in the airport overnight, including me and my sister, who has a new-born child”.
T.A. has been in Russia since February. On April 19, the allowed term for staying in the RF expires. Together with her, her sister’s family, i.e. her sister’s husband and two underage children, want to return, “I was told in the embassy that the RF automatically extends the temporary registration period for those in a situation like mine, but how long can they automatically extend it? It’s another issue. I keep in touch with my relatives and acquaintances who have come here to work. They, too, are in a very bad situation: there’s no work, they can’t pay their rent, buy food, they would all like to return with their families. I can say for sure that here, people are not afraid of getting infected, they are afraid of starving. My sister’s husband works in construction sphere, now it’s all closed, he has to drive a taxi, but this will be prohibitied, too, and he’s in a panic now, how is he going to feed the kids? And there are many others in a situation like this. The country provides support to those who have citizenship, but my sister’s family does not have citizenship and thus, doesn’t get social support. I’d like to call on our government to at least provide the return of persons with disabilities and multi-child families. There could at least be a flight every two days or the price of the tickets could get lower. The 40,000 rubles is, in these conditions, really absurd”.
On April 2, HCA Vanadzor applied to the RA Minister of Foreign Affairs with the issue of the return of T.A. and her sister’s family to the RA. At the same time, we requested for information regarding the steps taken by the Ministry to organize the return of RA citizens, who expressed their wish to return from the RF and other countries.
On April 7, Media and Public Diplomacy Department of the Ministry informed HCA Vanadzor that during February 26-28 - April 7, the return of 880 RA citizens was organized from Iran, USA, Poland, Georgia. 140 of those who returned to their motherland came by Upper Lars, and on April 6-7, they came by plane.
T.A. says that though she was one of the first to register in the embassy, she is still waiting for an answer “On April 6 and 7, we were in the airport, the queue was awful, people were fighting to get the chance to leave. It was only on April 5 that we learnt that a flight was scheduled for April 6, no-one gave us any information as to where we could buy tickets. It was quite late, when we learnt that we could buy tickets from “Domodedovo” airport. By the time we arrived, the tickets had been sold out. Then we learnt that flights were scheduled for April 8 and 9, and again no-one told us anything precise about ticket prices. We went to the airport and just when the moment of buying came, we learnt that the ticket cost 40,000 rubles. Many people are unable to return for this very reason: they know neither the price, nor the hours of the flight. For example, I get to the airport within 5-6 hours, but there are people, who have to spend a whole day to reach there”.
In contrast with T.A., Serob Bejanyan, Head of Media and Public Diplomacy Department of the Ministry, informed us during our conversation that T.A.’s and her relatives’ data are not registered in consular lists, “T. is not even registered. She is not found in the consular registration lists, I checked with the embassy if T.A. had been registered in the embassy and if their return could be envisaged for the next flight․ They told me that neither T.A.’s nor her sister’s and the latter’s husband’s names and surnames were registered in the list”.
According to S. Bejanyan, the situation changes every hour. If, on April 7, when responding to HCA Vanadzor, 2,000 citizens were registered, now the number is bigger, and it is constantly changing. All the RA diplomatic missions and consulates abroad have hotlines, by which citizens can register and get current information regarding the possible return dates. Before that, the embassy provided RA citizens in the RF with food and hotels, benefactors also supported in that issue. In regard to the prices of the tickets, according to S. Bejanyan, on April 13, i.e. after responding to HCA Vanadzor, there was 1 flight, which transferred persons to Armenia free of charge. Negotiations with the Russian side are ongoing. Providing a flight is not an easy job, “On April 6 and 7, people had already bought 90% of the tickets, and the tickets for the third flight, which took place on April 13, was free of charge․ Those, who had money, even refused free of charge tickets, offering to give them to persons who were more needy and were in extremely harsh conditions. Now, we do not even know when the fourth flight will take place, because the negotiations are ongoing. The airport is closed at all. For the flight to be organized, border service should be invited and registered, this means that it’s a whole process, to which the Russian side should agree. As long as they don’t agree, we can’t organize anyone’s flight. This is the reason why the embassy calls on our citizens to always be in touch. For the last flight, 230 persons applied for 230 seats. There were 10 children. So they had to fly with the children in their arms. Persons who have children, persons with illnesses and persons in extreme need are prioritised to be sent to Armenia first”.
Serob Bejanyan neither denied nor confirmed the information that T.A. got first from the embassy and then from the airport, that Armenia cannot provide hotels to isolate everyone, that is why the return of those persons is delayed. Serob Bejanyan mentioned, “It is not up to me to deny or confirm this information. The problem is connected with getting a permission, can we get a permission or not, cause it is really hard. There are no flights at all. 0 flights. The very Russia does not bring citizens from any country, even a country as powerful as USA does not take its citizens. Armenia is one of the few countries who brings its citizens back”.
It is still uncertain when the 4th flight will be, but S. Bejanyan assures that there will be free of charge tickets. They will make all the attempts to bring back the RA citizens who are left there, “This is, indeed, the moment where the factor of good acquaintanceship does not work. There is not even a single case of this. People leave according to the priorities”.