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.
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.
[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!”
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.