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The Kurdish family trapped in Moscow airport

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The Ahmed family has been in transit at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport for a long time. For more than 45 days, in fact.

That's five days more than former NSA contractor Edward Snowden spent cooling his heels there awaiting Russian asylum.

The Ahmeds, Iraqi Kurds, recently fled the advance of ISIS near their home, and travelled to Russia to seek asylum (some of their relatives have Russian citizenship).

They have not received the welcome that they were hoping. The Russian authorities refused their asylum claim, leaving the family unable to either enter Russian territory or return home. In fact the only place they can legally remain is in the airport transit lounge. The Russian government has also opened a legal case against them for illegal border crossings.

According to the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford, the Ahmeds, for their children's sake, have tried to make the area slightly more like home. The two adults and their four children have been sleeping on air mattresses in what was the smoking area of the lounge. The lounge’s glass walls have been decorated with children’s stickers, and some toys have been donated by human rights workers. For a while the children had a football which they would play with in the corridors, until it got either lost or stolen.

It has not been easy, Rainsford says. “It’s like an aquarium inside the glass walls of the smoking zone, with all the family’s belongings around them, looking out on the planes on the tarmac.”

One of the main problems is keeping warm. The family do not have the clothes to deal with a Russian winter, and the heating in the airport is erratic. Another problem is diet. Although some Moscovites have donated money for food, the family can only spend it in the airport café. “They are relying on food that is available to them", says Rainsford. "Which is burgers and sandwiches. And you can imagine that a three old girl is not going to remain healthy with that kind of food alone.” 

The stress has already taken hold on Gulistan, the family’s mother, who has been hospitalized. The family still don’t know how they will pay for her treatment. 

Recently some well-wishers have paid for the family to stay temporarily in a hotel. A long-term solution is likely to be a long way off, however, according to Rainsford. "The problem is that cases like these take months to resolve. So they are likely to be staying in the transit lounge for a very, very long time." 


From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International

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