As many as 1000 babies born through surrogacy in Russia have been unable to meet their intended parents due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Intended parents would usually collect their baby a few days after birth, but Russia closed its borders in March due to the coronavirus outbreak, making it impossible for families expecting through international surrogacy arrangements to bring their babies home.
'This is an urgent problem. These are children that are growing every day. They need their parents,' Irina Kirkora, deputy head of the Kremlin's Advisory Council on Human Rights in Moscow, told the Guardian.
According to data provided by Russian clinics who offer international surrogacy services as many as 1000 surrogate babies may have been born since February. Kirkora said these include babies for around 180 Chinese families as well as couples in Singapore, France, the Philippines, Argentina and Australia.
Many of the babies are being looked after by hired caregivers in rented accommodation, but some surrogates have also been asked to provide childcare until travel restrictions are eased. One surrogate, who gave birth in May, declined the request, and the child was placed in the care of a nanny. 'You feel like you're giving away the child', she told the Guardian.
Having missed the first months of their children's lives, families are now appealing to Russian officials to grant visas allowing them to collect their babies.
'Missing our child has been torturing us,' said one family in a video testimonial seen by the Guardian. 'Because of this epidemic, my child is now born, but I cannot meet my child,' said another.
Advocates for reuniting families with their children said that COVID-19 should not prevent parents from entering Russia. In neighbouring Ukraine, an appeal was made by a fertility clinic to the Government in May, stating that the clinic had dozens of children waiting to be collected by their parents. Ukraine has now re-opened its borders to foreigners.
The arrest on human trafficking charges of four doctors and four other employees, including a translator and a courier, from two fertility clinics that work with surrogates, has complicated matters further. The arrests followed an official inquiry that was launched after the death of a newborn baby to a surrogate in a flat near Moscow in January. The case is ongoing.