Mothers and grandmothers desperate to get their loved ones away from the physically and psychologically toxic effects of trying to live at the epicentre of Siberia’s dismally-regulated coal mining and processing industry have made a heartfelt appeal, direct to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau via YouTube, to be admitted to Canada as environmental refugees.
In the recently-posted video, reports the CBC, “dozens of women in Kiselyovsk, a city of 90,000 in Siberia, take turns reading emotional statements, explaining how coal dust from nearby mines and factories has blanketed their homes and made their lives unbearable.”
In a region that produces 60% of Russia’s coal, black chemical dust falls so thick that it makes it dangerous to work or play outdoors.
Officials tried to explain away a particularly bad period in February by claiming “that screens and other cleaning devices in nearby factories and emission stacks had somehow unexpectedly failed all at once,” CBC writes. The women of Kiselyovsk counter that “pollution is constant and forces them to keep their children inside for days at a time.”
The community also faces the problem of discarded coal spontaneously catching fire—another regular event that further pollutes the air with smoke and toxic fumes.
Evidently anxious to make a good impression, the speakers in the video describe themselves as hard workers who would “make a big contribution to Canada’s economy, if given the chance,” CBC writes.
“We can become useful to Canada, because in Russia we have simply been forgotten and we feel here as superfluous, useless people,” one woman declares. The group says local residents “want Trudeau’s help because Canada’s refugee system recognizes ‘discrimination on social grounds,’ which they say applies to them.”
But the women “are likely mistaken on that point,” writes the CBC, describing Canada’s refugee rules as “largely silent on questions of environmental impacts,” with criteria that focus more on flight from conflict or political persecution.
The women in the video also refer to a formal letter they sent to the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. It describes coal mining executives and Russian government officials as “more interested in protecting each other than those who are suffering health issues.”
The odds of these earnest appeals delivering any of Kiselyovsk’s residents out of their misery are very long, however. Immigration policy experts approached by CBC said there is “nothing in Canadian law that allows admittance of refugees because of pollution, especially if there are other places would-be refugees can live in their home countries,” the national broadcaster notes.