Siberian Women Want to Come to Canada as Environmental Refugees

A group of Siberian residents, fed up with worsening environmental conditions in Kiselyovsk, a coal town in Russia, posted a YouTube video, making an emotional plea to be allowed to come to Canada as environmental refugees.

In the video posted to YouTube over the weekend, dozens of women in Kiselyovsk, a city of 90,000 in Siberia, appealed for asylum — begging Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres — to be admitted to Canada as environmental refugees.

Vitaly Sheshtakov, one of the organizers of the “Move to Canada” appeal was quoted by the local newspaper as saying living conditions in Canada are similar to Siberia, only much cleaner, reports CBC Canada.

“We chose Canada because the climate there is similar to our region. So that they [Russian authorities] wouldn’t say that we just wanted to move to warm countries.”

Osinnikovskaya coal mine. Kuznetsk coal basin. Kemerovo Oblast, Russia

Osinnikovskaya coal mine. Kuznetsk coal basin. Kemerovo Oblast, Russia

All the residents speaking in the video identify themselves as mothers and grandmothers. They say they are hard-working and can make a contribution to Canada’s economy if given a chance. “We can become useful to Canada because in Russia we have simply been forgotten and we feel here as superfluous, useless people,” one of the women says.

“The ecology of our city and region is getting worse every day, while we, the citizens of this country, are being noticed less and less and people are dying more and more from diseases,” they said. “We are tired of waiting for changes, and it’s dangerous to wait any longer,” they added.

Lax environmental laws abound

The Kuzbass region’s economy is dominated by the coal industry. There are nine coal mines in Kiselyovsk, all in close proximity to homes. Approximately 60 percent of all the coal used in Russia comes from this region.

In February this year, Kiselyosk made headlines after photos showing snow covered in black coal ash appeared online. Tests conducted in the region revealed more than double the permissible amount of pollutants in the air. Cars, homes, and livestock were coated with a thick layer of coal dust.

Government officials and coal plant managers informed the public that screens and other cleaning devices in nearby factories and emission stacks had somehow unexpectedly failed all at once. However, residents claim they are living in an environment of constant pollution.

“This is unbearable,” Lyubov Nuriyeva, a mother of three, told Russian state TV at the time. “You let them go play in the fresh air, in the snow, and then you see what the snow looks like and you wonder what will happen to their lungs if they breathe that in.”

Kuzbass coalfield is one of the largest in the world

The Kuzbass coalfield stretches across 10,000 square miles, making it one of the largest in the world. There are 120 coal mining facilities and 52 enrichment plants, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

The coalfields of the Kuzbass region in Siberia are one of the largest in the world.

The coalfields of the Kuzbass region in Siberia are one of the largest in the world.

In a 2015 report published by Ecodefense, it was reported that men and women in the Kuzbass region have an average life expectancy three to four years lower than Russia’s national average.

In the report, the ECD found there was an increased incidence of tuberculosis, childhood cerebral palsy and 15 types of cancer. Kuzbass rated first in 2011 and second in 2012 in Russia for child cerebral palsy. Incidence of 15 cancer diseases is above Russia’s average.

Poor health of the population is not only the result of coal mining but the complex problem of the region where air and soil are saturated with coal particles. Besides that, the atmosphere in Kuzbass is polluted by industrial plants most of which were built in the 1950s.

“We don’t want to betray our country, we just want to survive and have guarantees that we, as humans, mean more than minerals in the bowels of the earth,” the residents said in their appeal on Saturday.