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Russian student stranded at Frankfurt Airport

Nikita Batalov
April 21, 2020

A young Russian who wanted to come to Germany to study despite coronavirus travel restrictions is stuck in Frankfurt Airport's deserted transit area. But he still doesn't want to return to Moscow.

Mikhail Novosyelov's transit pass
Image: M. Nowoselow

Mikhail Novosyelov wanted to study in Berlin no matter the price. However, when the 23-year-old arrived in Frankfurt on a specially chartered flight from Moscow ,he was not allowed to enter the country. Now he is stranded in Frankfurt International Airport's transit zone because there are currently no flights heading back to Russia.

The Russian student was eager to begin a semester abroad at Berlin's Humboldt University. On April 17, a few days before the semester was originally slated to begin, he flew from Moscow to Frankfurt on a chartered evacuation flight for 133 other Russians, all of whom have permanent residency status in Germany.

But when he arrived, immigration agents said that unlike all of the other passengers on the flight, Mikhail was "unable to show urgent and necessary grounds for entering the country." The European Union (EU) has been under a blanket ban on third-country nationals entering the bloc since March 17, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Read more: Germany's coronavirus travel restrictions: What you need to know 

An empty Frankfurt Airport terminal
The deserted terminal is Mikhail's current homeImage: M. Nowoselow

'Last chance'

Mikhail studies sociology in Tomsk, Siberia, and told DW that this is his "last chance to study abroad." He says he will finish his degree soon, after which it will no longer be possible to do so.

This is not the first time he has been refused entry, however. He tried a month ago but was turned away in Berlin. He says border agents would not let him enter Germany because he could not prove he had a place to stay. He claims he had been promised a room at a student dormitory, and the only thing missing was his signature on a contract with the university.

That was not enough to convince the border agents, however, and he was forced to return to Moscow. He says he spent a month in the Russian capital before he got a "lucky break" and heard about a flight to evacuate Germany-based Russians stuck in Moscow. He kept in touch with the group via WhatsApp and decided to buy a ticket and try once again.

He says he was in touch with the German Embassy before buying the ticket and employees there assured him that his visa would be all he would need to enter the country. But in Germany, it is border agents who have the last word as to who can and cannot enter the country.

A copy of the German Federal Police's written refusal of entry, which was seen by DW, states that Mikhail was not allowed to stay in the country because it was deemed "a present, grave threat to a fundamental interest" of society, as well as to public health.

Read more: Coronavirus: Is the EU's Erasmus program under threat?

Life in the terminal

After overcoming his initial shock, Mikhail began to settle into life in the airport's transit area. He says a Lufthansa employee whom he met by coincidence began helping him after he told him his story. He says the employee brought him a folding bed so he could sleep more comfortably in the transit zone. Other airport employees started bringing him food, too. "They even asked me what kind of food I like, or if I had any allergies," he says. He was also given shower tokens so he could finally clean himself up a bit. He is, however, still waiting to get his bags back.

Mikhail says he spends most of his time alone, wandering back and forth through the immense and, unusually, almost deserted airport. He says he sometimes talks with the few other passengers he sees, among them three Bulgarians who were also denied entry.

No idea about return flights

The young student has gotten moral support from friends back home, but also from those in the WhatsApp group of Germany-based Russians. He says many write to ask how he is doing, and he tells them about how he has to report to the police several times each day. The student says German authorities have kept his passport and issued him only a transit pass in return.

Now, Mikhail is waiting for a return flight to Moscow. But as so few flights are departing these days, he has no idea how long he will still have to wait. He tells DW that police are thinking about putting him on a flight to Minsk in Belarus, from where he would then have to continue on to Russia on his own. That plan makes him nervous. "It is unclear how I will manage to quarantine myself once I get there, and how I am supposed to get into Russia — its borders are closed now, too," he says.

A deserted Frankfurt Airport
Frankfurt Airport is usually the busiest in GermanyImage: M. Nowoselow

He knew he was taking a risk

Despite it all, Mikhail has not given up hope that he will eventually be allowed into Germany. For instance, he has been trying to register a place of abode with authorities in Berlin online. He is convinced that if his attempt is successful, it would be enough to change border agents' minds. Moreover, friends of his recommended an attorney who is looking into his case.

Mikhail says he poses no threat to others. He tested negative for the coronavirus in Moscow, and says he would be more than willing to take another test here. "I could also self-quarantine in my dorm for two weeks if they let me into the country," he adds.

Mikhail also admits that he knew he was taking a risk when he boarded the second flight to Germany, but says he did so out of desperation: "I didn't know if I'd ever have the chance again. My visa could expire by then. And right now they aren't issuing new ones."   

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