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Russian Maternity Ward Turns Away Illegal Immigrant in Labor

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more
Shaira Urlasheva, lying on the roadside outside the Vladivostok maternity ward that turned her away, 6 November 2013, YouTube screenshot.

Shaira Urlasheva, lying on the roadside outside the Vladivostok maternity ward that turned her away, 6 November 2013, YouTube screenshot.

The night staff at a Vladivostok maternity ward reignited Russia’s immigrant debate yesterday, when obstetricians refused to admit a woman in labor [ru], because she lacked both health insurance documentation and the 25 thousand rubles (771 US dollars) to pay the hospital’s child delivery fee. Shaira Urlasheva, a 28-year-old citizen of Uzbekistan, came to Russia more than three years ago, but she has been living illegally in Vladivostok since 2011, when her registration expired. When doctors denied Urlasheva access to the maternity ward, she walked out into the cold and collapsed on the roadside, where passersby soon discovered her and called both the police and paramedics. After lying on the ground and managing contractions for roughly an hour, the paramedics and police finally convinced the hospital staff to admit Urlasheva into the maternity ward, where she soon gave birth to a boy—her fourth child.

The story of Russian doctors turning away an illegal immigrant in labor has sharply divided bloggers. While nearly everyone reacting online seems to agree that forcing a woman into the street to give birth is a regrettable tragedy, the split between Russian nationalists and Russian liberals largely determines whom people tend to blame for the calamity.

Liberal reactions

In a Facebook post [ru] that has attracted over 375 comments and more than 200 “likes,” Olga Tukhanina asked readers to imagine that Urlasheva had been a Russian citizen, who merely forgot her wallet and papers.

Из Москвы в гости приехала, ага. Гулять пошла на девятом месяце, воздухом океанским дышать. […] И тут – ага! – воды отходят, и начинаются роды. А у мобильного зарядка села. А врачи говорят ей: иди, иди, тетка, отсюда. Вон, в кусты иди. Потому что не положено.

Так лучше?

[Let’s say] she came from Moscow [to Vladivostok] to visit friends. She goes for a walk, nine months pregnant, to breathe the ocean air. […] And then—bang—her water breaks, and she goes into labor, and her mobile phone’s battery is dead. But the doctors tell her: you get out of here, lady. Go into the bushes or something. Because we don’t help without papers and money.

Is this better?

Writing from Sweden, a woman named Maria von Josefsson commented [ru] on Tukhanina’s post, expressing disbelief that doctors could have refused to help a woman in labor:

Ё-моё, кто-нибудь из вас вообще рожал??? Как можно не пустить в роддом рожающую женщину??? Что вы все к это роженице прицепились, врачи не оказали экстренную помощь нуждающейся в ней женщине. Блин, что-нибудь человеческое вообще в людях осталось? […]

Christ, have any of you ever given birth??? How can somebody deny a woman in labor access to a maternity ward??? You're all on this pregnant lady's case, [but what really happened was that] doctors refused to give her essential help. Jesus, is there anything human left in people?

Worries about “unsanitary” immigrants & beggars

Others on Facebook, like Pravda.ru correspondent Nadezhda Alekseeva, acknowledged that the Vladivostok doctors broke the Hippocratic Oath, when they turned away Urlasheva, but worried that admitting undocumented people off the streets could pose a health risk to patients already hospitalized. Alekseeva explains that migrant workers, like homeless people panhandling in the Moscow metro, have exhausted the public’s charity. On the threat to maternity wards’ sterility, she writes [ru]:

[…] не стоит забывать о том, что принимать в стерильный роддом женщину, которая не сдала ни одного анализа и жила в подвале – риск для других рожениц и их детей. Беда не в гастарбайтерах, а их количестве.

[…] we shouldn’t forget that it’s a risk to the other new mothers and their children to accept into a sterile maternity ward a woman, who hasn’t undergone any examination and who lives in a basement. The problem isn’t the migrant workers, but their numbers.

While the hospital staff has emphasized sanitation concerns, it's worth noting that a news report by OTV Primorye (accessible on YouTube) recorded the negotiations between paramedics and doctors. When one of the paramedics tried to evoke sympathy for Urlasheva by asking a woman on the hospital staff if she has children of her own (at 2:46 in the video), the latter explodes in anger, yelling, “[Urlasheva] already has three kids! Why does she need to come to Russia to have another one!”

Nationalist reactions

For many bloggers, the incident in Vladivostok is a bitter reminder that illegal immigrants who give birth in Russia without medical insurance do so at the expense of taxpayers. Writing on Facebook, DemVybor’s Kirill Shulika accused [ru] both the Kremlin and “progressive society” of supporting a flawed immigration policy that encourages Central Asians to exploit Russia’s healthcare system, where “even the dirtiest maternity wards are better than what they have back home.” Therefore, Shulika claims, “they come here in their ninth month, without any kind of visa, and calmly have their babies, at our expense.”

The nationalist website [ru] Sputnik & Pogrom also addressed Urlasheva’s story, calling her actions “maternity tourism,” framing it as evidence that illegal immigrant labor is in fact not as cheap as some claim:

И всякий, рассказывающий про “дешевую рабочую силу”, по сути хочет залезть к вам в карман, заставив общество платить за обслуживание рабской рабочей силы. И труд даже самого негодного русского работника лучше труда самого лучшего таджика именно потому, что русский со своей зарплаты вносит свои социальные взносы, поддерживая российскую социальную инфраструктуру, тогда как таджик ее грабит.

And anybody who tells you about this “cheap workforce” really just wants to slip his hand into your pocket, forcing society to pay for the maintenance of his slave labor. The labor of even the most useless Russian worker is better than the labor of the best Tajik, precisely because there are social insurance taxes on the Russian’s wages, supporting Russia’s social infrastructure, which the Tajik then robs.

Calls for a visa regime against immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus have circulated in Russia for years now. Most recently, prominent blogger and oppositionist Alexey Navalny launched a federal petition [ru] to introduce such legislation, after an ethnic riot outside Moscow last month. In connection with the Vladivostok hospital incident, Sputnik & Pogrom now advocates a new tax on all new immigrants, designed to finance possible medical and deportation expenses, like those Urlasheva cannot afford.

  • Anonymous

    The irony here (and in other countries facing similar pushback against both legal and illegal immigrants) is that Russia NEEDS these immigrants. The birth rate has plummeted, and the country is literally considered ‘dying’ because the average birth rate per woman is so low (even negative?). Many Russians are poor and unhealthy and choosing not to have children. The population can not replace itself. So the country needs those immigrants, but when the government barely takes enough care to improve the health of actual Russian citizens, it is probably not going to fulfill its responsibility of assimilating immigrants into society (legal or illegal).

    • Cave_Johnson

      Firstly Russia birthrate has surpassed America’s: http://www.forbes.com/sites/markadomanis/2013/07/25/dying-russias-birth-rate-is-now-higher-than-the-united-states/

      Secondly, you operate on the assumption that all peoples around the world are interchangeable (a stupid view only White people ever seem to hold, btw). Replacing Russians with Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Chechens will makes Russia even worse than it is now, given how these people run their own countries. Or maybe Russians don’t want to be a minority in their country? Gee, how awful of them. Russia w/o Russians isn’t really Russia now is it? Its just Central Asia. But Russia with fewer Russians, while are still the preponderant majority, is still Russia.

      Third some scholars have noted that Siberia may need to be depopulated. Like Alaska or Canada’s North, its a resource rich region with unbearable weather; however less than 1% of the Canadian or American populations live in these areas, yet we exploit the resources quite well with seasonal labor and higher labor productivity. Modern Siberia was settle under Soviet stupidity with awe inspiring lack of respect for financial cost or human life.

      Fourth, fertility rates can rise in the future. Fertility is usually driven by culture above all, Russia muslim immigrants subjugate their women, so they have a much higher birthrate; whereas young Russians value career before family just as Westerners. If they were to ban pornography, sexualized advertising, and promote a culture that places family above money, then fertility may rise. “Many Russians are poor and unhealthy” Right! So stop wasting massive billions of dollars in subsidies to the North Caucasus (and military, 1/4 of Russia’s defense spending is on the North Caucasus) and spend Russian money on Russian health. Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign was actually working a little. An anti-smoking campaign is needed. Higher spending on healthcare, socialized medicine perhaps, would help.

      Fifth, Russia has no responsibility to immigrants, certainly not illegal ones. If immigrants have problems with their adopted country they can leave. An immigrant demanding his adopted country bends to him rather then he to it, is incredible arrogance. Most russians don’t want these people. 84% of Russians support Navalny’s call for a visa regime with Central Asia. 73% want migrants deported (http://goo.gl/CmfT8p). And you’re telling them, just as Putin does: “FUCK YOU. You don’t get to run your country. Suck a dick”

      • Anonymous

        Actually: there is a big difference between the RATE OF BIRTH and the replacement ratio (i.e. average number of children per women). Do you have a recent figure for the actual replacement ratio that puts the figure above 2 or above that of the US? Even if the rate at which women are giving birth in Russia is increasing at a faster rate than America’s, the US still has an average ratio of 2.1 babies per woman. Russia’s is still below 2, even if the rate of births is rising at a faster rate. They need it to rise above 2. Yes, as you said, it could certainly rise and hopefully it will because that is good for the country’s public health. Until then, the government really has no choice but to allow immigrants — illegal or not — to enter. There just are not enough people populating the country. This is a phenomenon occurring in Japan, South Korea and Western Europe and also the Middle East (Iran, for instance, has seen an influx of Afghan immigrants and the number of kids per woman is well below 2 for similar reasons as Russia and western Europe, etc. There has also been the same backlash against illegal immigrants there.]

        And of course, no one wants to be a minority in their own country and it would be blatant racism to say that people are “interchangeable,” which of course I absolutely did not say. [Yet you make generalizing statements about "white people" -- and automatically assume that I am white].

        I am just saying that when the facts on the ground show that the population is below what it needs to be, immigration rises so the country can continue to run.

        And it is indeed the responsibility of any government to handle the public health of its country, to invest in it, and take responsibility for the fall in natives giving birth- as you said. But it is also its responsibility to help the immigrants — especially illegal ones — adjust as well, because the government is ALLOWING them in (because face it: we all know the government knows when illegal immigrants enter) and the government is also definitely USING them. The government could always deport them — but it will not. By not taking responsibility, everyone–native population and immigrants–suffers.

        • Cave_Johnson

          “I am just saying that when the facts on the ground show that the
          population is below what it needs to be, immigration rises so the
          country can continue to run.”

          Not in Japan or South Korea. They run fine as well, and remain steadfast against Western liberals bullying them to let in poor Asians. Whatever the fate of their nations, THEY will decide it, not Westerners, not Thai and Filipinos.

          Russians simply do not want these immigrants but the kleptocrats who rule them don’t care. Whether the immigrants are suffering isn’t the concern of Russians since they never wanted them in the first place.

        • Cave_Johnson

          “I am just saying that when the facts on the ground show that the
          population is below what it needs to be, immigration rises so the
          country can continue to run.”

          Not in Japan or South Korea. They run fine as well, and remain steadfast against Western liberals bullying them to let in poor Asians. Whatever the fate of their nations, THEY will decide it, not Westerners, not Thai and Filipinos.

          Russians simply do not want these immigrants but the kleptocrats who rule them don’t care. Whether the immigrants are suffering isn’t the concern of Russians since they never wanted them in the first place.

        • gerald ratner

          2.1 is not enough to replace the population given the IMR in Russia. The IMR in the US is less than a tenth that in Russia, plus Russia, rather like many African countries has a continuing mortality rate right up to 25 which does not exist in the US.

    • amuncat

      “…fulfill its responsibility of assimilating immigrants…”
      At what point do we hold ‘immigrants’, illegal and legal, responsible for assimilating into the country THEY have chosen to live in?!!!! The most basic act of respect and moving toward inclusion is to learn the language BEFORE you come!!!!

  • amuncat

    This may sound harsh to some, but she was grandstanding. This was for the news, poor woman turned away to give birth on the cold hard pavement. First of all, women who don’t have the $$$ usually give birth at home through a mid wife. Are you telling me that this woman was completely alone?!!! Don’t think so! This was to embarrass Russia and their treatment of illegal aliens. I know for a fact that here in US, they use their children to gain our sympathy…some, not me! I know, this poor woman who already had four kids is lost and alone as she delivers another. Where is the dude who did this…don’t ask, she is alone…
    All one has to do is to turn away 2-3 of these, and they won’t do it anymore!!! Illegal aliens know exactly what they are doing….good on you Putin!!!!

  • Pingback: Russian Maternity Ward Turns Away Illegal Immigrant in Labor | Freedom, Justice, Equality News

  • gerald ratner

    now don’t let her leave the hospital until she has cleaned all the toilets, twice

  • Pingback: Russian Maternity Ward Turns Away Illegal Immigrant in Labor | Brine Books Publishing

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