Seeking a safe haven, Russian migrants make new start in Argentina

By Javier Castro Bugarin

Buenos Aires, Mar 2 (EFE).- Georgy Eliseev and Marina Morunova can’t help but smile.

Having recently welcomed a new daughter (now six months old and an Argentine citizen) into their lives, this Russian married couple exude happiness and say they are thrilled to be living in Argentina, a country Eliseev says is full of “very open-minded” and “very kind” people.

“We don’t know how many days we’ll stay because of this situation (in their homeland). We only want to stay (in a) calm and safe place,” Morunova told Efe in English at Buenos Aires’ Parque Centenario, a public park very close to their new home.

They are among a growing number of Russian families who became deeply concerned about the consequences of the war in Ukraine for ordinary citizens – and particularly the possibility of men being conscripted into military service – and opted to relocate to Argentina, a place whose attractions include a high level of public services, a welcoming population and a manageable level of bureaucracy.

Over the past 12 months alone, 2,400 Russian citizens have begun applying for residency permits with the National Directorate for Migration, which says a total of 22,000 Russian nationals have entered Argentina since the start of 2022.

Eliseev and Morunova left Moscow soon after the war began on Feb. 24, 2022, and arrived in Buenos Aires a little less than one year ago.

They still struggle to communicate in Spanish – “gracias” and “perfecto” are the two words they use the most – but said they are pleased with their new routine in their adoptive country.

“Actually, we work in the first part of the day remotely because the time difference is six hours from Moscow … and the second part of the day we do whatever we want,” Eliseev said in English.

Another Russian couple, Alya Lykhina and Vitali Biriukov, relocated to that South American country with their five children in May of last year and said they are enjoying Argentine culture.

“Some Russians, they came and said ‘oh, it’s not like in Russia … Why (do) you have so many small shops, not one big (one)? It’s so different to go to buy meat here, to buy this here and that there in that shop … But for us it’s OK because we got used (to the differences),” Lykhina told Efe in English while her husband was carrying their five-month-old daughter Tanisha, an Argentine citizen, in his arms.

Those two families are part of a broader phenomenon that has caught the attention of the National Directorate for Migration: middle- and upper-class Russians, many with post-graduate degrees, have settled in Argentina and are either living from their savings or working remotely for companies in other countries in the fields of finance or digital design.

They opted for Argentina in large part because of a bilateral treaty that allows Russian citizens to remain in that South American country for 90 days without a visa, a three-month window that pregnant Russian woman are capitalizing on to give birth in Argentina and secure birthright citizenship for their newborns.

Furthermore, having a child who is Argentine expedites the immigrant parents’ own path to residency and eventual citizenship, which many Russians covet considering current international sanctions that are making it difficult for Russian citizens to open bank accounts abroad.

Holders of Argentine passports also enjoy the further benefit of visa-free entry into 171 countries.

Eliseev said the Argentines they have met are “easy to live (with)” and that he and his wife have been able to settle down there without being mired in an excessive amount of bureaucratic red tape.

“Everything is good. You just live and that’s it,” he said.

These migratory flows drew media attention last month when six pregnant Russian women were held at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport on suspicion of being “false tourists” who planned to have their babies there and then immediately leave the country.

“I think if there is a problem, Argentina has to (solve it through the lawmaking process), because if it’s possible to come here and to have a baby and to have a passport, people will do it, not only from Russia, from other countries too. So if you don’t want that to happen, do something with the law,” Lykhina said, criticizing the pregnant women’s “horrible” ordeal.

But beyond their interest in obtaining Argentine nationality, hundreds of Russian families have traveled to that country to stay.

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