British authorities prevented Oksana Chelysheva, member of the Board of the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum (FINROSFORUM), from attending a major international human rights conference in Northern Ireland. Ms Chelysheva was due to deliver a keynote address on the situation in Russia’s North Caucasus at the Poisonous Legacies conference in Derry on 15 June 2013, but was stopped on arrival at London Stansted Airport.
Conference organiser Paul O’Connor was nonplussed by the incident. He noted that Ms Chelysheva was an esteemed, award-winning journalist recognised by Amnesty International for her human rights work. “We will now have an empty chair where someone was supposed to be talking about the situation in Chechnya,” Mr O’Connor said. Ms Chelysheva has been campaigning for a war crimes tribunal on the conflict in Chechnya.
The Poisonous Legacies conference, organised by the Bloody Sunday Trust and the Pat Finucane Centre, will examine the impact of conflict and colonialism in various parts of the world. Ms Chelysheva is known for her outspoken criticism of the policies and human rights violations of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Mr Putin was due to join the leaders of the world’s richest countries for the G8 summit in Northern Ireland next week.
Before the conference organisers had bought airline tickets for Ms Chelysheva, they first inquired whether she needed a visa, as she was carrying a Finnish alien’s passport. Initially, the British border officials at Stansted Airport made no effort to stop Ms Chelysheva from boarding her connecting flight to Derry. However, that all changed after they consulted their superior, who stated that he had never seen such a passport.
Ms Chelysheva was held in custody for six hours, fingerprinted, and her laptop and mobile phones were confiscated. She was allowed to contact a friend who informed the conference organisers of what had happened. Officials at Stansted Airport treated her nicely. Ms Chelysheva was then put on a flight back to Riga. She had arrived in Stansted on a Ryanair flights from Riga. Ms Chelysheva’s residence is in Helsinki.
The British authorities thus deported Ms Chelysheva despite the fact that she was travelling from one EU country to another while carrying a passport issued by a third EU country. The chief of the border guard at Stansted Airport stated that Ms Chelysheva had “nothing to do with the EU.” She provided ample information about the conference in Derry, yet the reason for her deportation was “insufficient grounds on the purpose of the visit.”
This incident raises serious questions regarding the freedom of travel within the EU of people holding alien’s passports and other travel documents of non-citizens. Barring entry to a person travelling from one EU country to another with a valid travel document is, on the face of it, a blatant violation of the basic rights of an EU resident. The Finnish-Russian Civic Forum demands a full explanation of the incident from the British authorities.