Running into a Trap: the Emigration Mafia of Azerbaijan

Because of political pressure and the worsening economic situation in Azerbaijan, ever more people are striving to move abroad. It appears that an illegal business for sending refugees – both real and fake – to Europe is developing in Azerbaijan alongside the growth in the number of émigrés.

“The migration mafia”

This expression was first given voice in April of this year, when the newspaper Yeni Müsavatpublished an article in which Tural Huseynov, a member of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP), told the newspaper that he paid 5,700 dollars to the “migration mafia”, who had promised to provide him with support and refugee status in Europe, but the promises were not kept.

The party activist said that during the process of negotiations with these nefarious individuals, he managed to find out that they are, in particular, involved in making counterfeit official stamps.

According to Huseynov, those wishing to go abroad were passed off as members of opposition parties and given counterfeit documents. With false party identification, the Azerbaijani citizen travelling abroad would have a chance at receiving political asylum.

A criminal case

The prosecutor general’s office of Azerbaijan launched a criminal case over the issuing of false documents to individuals wanting to emigrate from Azerbaijan.

On April 21, in the Division for Investigation of Grave Crimes of the Prosecutor General’s Office, notable opposition figures, including Ali Kerimli, leader of the APFP, and Gozel Bayramli, the deputy chair of this same party, and Sakif Gurbanov, head of the administrative department, provided testimony related to this case.

A little earlier, in February, the prosecutor general’s office was provided with testimony by the head of the Müsavat party, Arif Hajili, and by Isa Gambar, head of the civic organization the National Strategic Thought Center. The opposition figures later stated that they considered the interrogation to be pressure in response to protest rallies.

The investigation will not share details about the case with the press, and doesn’t even respond to journalists asking under which article of the criminal code the case was initiated.

“It’s most likely that the criminal case might have been initiated on the basis of Article 308 (Abuse of Powers of Office) and also article 313 (Forgery by an Official) of the Criminal Code of the Azerbaijan Republic”, suggests lawyer Zibeyda Zakariyaeva, who was asked for comment by Meydan TV.

Is the Hungarian embassy involved in this?

The Hungarian embassy in Azerbaijan figured in an article for the newspaper Yeni Müsavat. This was a first, as previously the Azerbaijani media had never voiced such suspicion of a diplomatic organization.

Some of those interviewed accused the Hungarian embassy of supporting a corrupt setup for sending refugees to Europe. One of the figures in the case confirmed that he paid an employee of the Hungarian embassy in Azerbaijan a specified amount of money in exchange for support in receiving a Schengen visa.

Meydan TV asked the Hungarian embassy to comment on these accusations. The response from the embassy’s second secretary and press attaché, Zoltan Timar, was as follows:

“The consulate office of the Embassy of Hungary issues Schengen visas in accordance with the Schengen Agreement and with Hungarian law, but in processing each visa application, decisions can be made taking into account new regulations”, stated Timar.

There are ever more refugees

According to Azerbaijani journalist, researcher, and political migrant Yafez Akremoglu, who himself went through a refugee camp in Germany, these sorts of arrangements for sending refugees from Azerbaijan to Europe have acquired massive proportions.

“In recent years, the number of refugees from Azerbaijan has sharply increased. I see a connection between this eagerness to leave for European countries and people’s desire to improve their economic situation. However, there are major differences between what they expect from the relocation and the reality they are faced with”.

Akremoglu worked for Radio Liberty in Azerbaijan; he moved to Germany because of threats and spent several months in the camps. During this time he got acquainted with dozens of his countrymen who were seeking political asylum. “The overwhelming majority of those who had been wronged were victims of the “migration mafia”, which they had blindly trusted in their home country”, claims the journalist.

“The typical victim doesn’t know how to go through all this process, what sorts of procedures there are”, says Akremoglu. “It’s a total surprise for them that, upon arriving in Germany as a refugee, one must present sound evidence of persecution for political convictions. When the victim finally begins to understand that they’ve been duped, it’s already too late to go back”.

How does this work?

Journalist Yafez Akremoglu is gathering all the facts that are in one way or another connected with Azerbaijani refugees’ passage to the West. He intends in the future to prepare his own journalistic report on this topic. This is how the researcher describes the setup:

“Those who are sending refugees from Azerbaijan to Europe can be tentatively divided into two parts: the European part, and people who “work” in Azerbaijan. The primary task in Azerbaijan is to find, entice, and convince the victim to emigrate. They usually promise them mountains of gold.

After they’ve gotten consent, they need to get a visa. For this, ‘cooperation’ has long since been established with embassies and tourist companies in the Azerbaijani part of this corrupt syndicate. At this stage the potential emigrant is asked to offer collateral: the amount might be from two to ten thousand euro.

After the money is received, they begin preparing the documents and acquiring visas, usually by bribing embassy employees.

As a rule, the visas are issued by the embassies of Eastern-European countries”, says Yafez Akremoglu, sharing his observations.

“Upon arrival in Europe, the local part of the syndicate takes over”, says the journalist.

At this stage the counterfeit documents are put to use; these include, for example, documents attesting that the applicant was detained by the police in Azerbaijan (even if this didn’t occur), or was part of opposition organizations, or participated in instances of civil disobedience, etc.

“Usually this is prepared here, in Europe”, says Akremoglu, “There are ready-made forms of these forgeries, with the stamp of the organization and so on. Sometimes people really do manage to get through the agencies handling refugee issues in Europe, but more often than not this doesn’t happen.”  

What then?

Akremoglu shared a story about a family that didn’t manage to get refugee status.

“They drew this family in with promises, sent them photographs of the beautiful homes they supposedly provide for refugees in Europe; they said that upon arriving they would be provided with accommodations and a car”.

This family liked the conditions of the move so much that they decided to sell their apartment in order to pay for the visa and for passage. They paid the majority when they were still in Baku: passage for a four-person family to Germany cost them 10,000 euro. When they’d already arrived, they were forced to add roughly 8,000 more ‘for expenses’, i.e. in order to hire an attorney, prepare additional documents, and so on.

After long months of wandering among the camps, the federal organs for migration and refugees didn’t recognize their documents as authentic, and as a result the family was denied the desired refugee status. They are to be deported to Azerbaijan, where they now have nowhere to live, in the near future.

The situation could have changed if the victims of the scam weren’t frauds themselves: in that case, they could have given testimony against this corrupt network.

In 2016, 4,750 Azerbaijani citizens requested asylum in Germany. This number is up three times in comparison to 2015. According to data from Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, which was referenced by the Azerbaijani web portal ANN.Az, a decision has been made for only 2,722 of the 4,750 requests received in 2016. Of them, 63.4%, that is 1,726 of these 2,722 Azerbaijanis who appealed for asylum, were rejected for lack of evidence.

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