Refugees or opportunists? Pregnant Russian women look to settle in Argentina

By Javier Castro Bugarin

Buenos Aires, Mar 1 (EFE).- Maria Konovalova, a Russian citizen, found out she was pregnant last August.

A resident of Saint Petersburg at the time, she was teaching English to younger learners and was satisfied with her life.

Her intention was to give birth in her homeland, but the government’s declaration a month later of a partial mobilization of military reservists to fight in Ukraine altered her plans, and she and her husband made the abrupt decision to relocate to Argentina.

“That was a terrible time because my husband went for work in the morning, and I didn’t know will I see him in the evening. Policemen were catching people in the street and sending them away … so we understood that it was really dangerous to live there anymore,” the 25-year-old told Efe in remarks in English in Buenos Aires.

Konovalova is one of more than 10,000 Russian citizens who have traveled to Argentina since the start of last year.

Those migratory movements have raised suspicion among immigration authorities, who see them as an irregular means of obtaining Argentine citizenship and a lucrative business for international mafias.

After a 26-hour trip from Saint Petersburg, Konovalova landed at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza international airport on Feb. 9.

Upon arrival, she had no idea that she and five other pregnant Russian women would be held for an additional 24 hours at an airport waiting room.

“Immigration officers decide that it was suspicious that I traveled alone, like it was some kind of strange (thing), and they decided that I wanted to come here and leave my baby here and go away, like sell my baby here. I don’t know, some strange story about mafias or something like that. I didn’t get it.”

After an initial six-hour wait, Konovalova was given a document indicating that she had been denied entry.

Authorities accused the women of being “false tourists” who had traveled to Argentina for the sole purpose of giving birth there, registering their babies as Argentine citizens (Argentina grants birthright citizenship) and then departing the country.

(Russians face increased restrictions on international travel in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, while Argentine citizens can travel visa-free to more than 130 countries worldwide)

According to the National Directorate for Migration, the women were violating the spirit of an agreement that allows Russians to remain in Argentina for 90 days without a visa.

But Konovalova and two other Russian citizens responded by hiring an attorney who specializes in citizenship law, Christian Rubilar, who filed a habeas corpus petition to secure their release and subsequent entry into Argentina.

“What we achieved with the habeas corpus is that they can no longer detain more pregnant women,” Rubilar told Efe.

Those detentions, however, have brought attention to the war-triggered arrival of Russian citizens in Argentina.

In January 2023 alone, 4,523 Russian citizens arrived in the South American country, up from 1,037 in the same month of last year, according to official figures.

Many of those individuals were women who were between 33 and 34 weeks pregnant and wanted to give birth at hospitals in Argentina.

“We (assisted with) around 30 births of Russian patients last year. This year more are arriving. It’s estimated that double the number of women will come to have their families here,” Matias Uranga, head of obstetrics at Buenos Aires’ Hospital Aleman, told Efe.

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