An estimated 400,000 Russians have left Russia since the Ukraine crisis began. Some European countries have refused to accept Russian asylum requests. The EU has now declared an EU-wide policy toward Russian conscription evacuating conscripts. It is still relatively small compared to the numbers in some Central Asian nations. Judges regarding asylum should always be founded on impartial standards and individual evaluations.
It’s not apparent how Russians could ask for asylum, given that there are almost no routes from Russia to the EU. European leaders need to set an example by proclaiming that Europe is a haven for anyone who has good reasons to flee their country. Many Russian males attempting to avoid the draught may be considered refugees under international law. Blocking the borders and limiting Russians’ access to visas are not solutions. Recognising them as refugees sends a solid message to the Russian people, the Russian leadership, and the rest of the world.
Ukrainian President Zelensky urged Russian men to resist the mobilisation and offered them sanctuary in Ukraine. Russia’s rhetoric that the West is waging war on Russia would be strengthened if Europe completely closed its borders to Russian men. The EU must show them that Europe is with them at this crucial time.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on September 21 a military draught intended to gather about 300,000 Russian males to engage in the war in Ukraine, an estimated 400,000 Russians—possibly even more—have left the nation.
They are escaping Russia in all directions, with thousands more coming daily to Georgia, over 20,000 in Kazakhstan, many continuing to Kyrgyzstan, thousands in Turkey, and hundreds in Armenia.
Thousands of people are waiting in line at the land borders, hotel rates are skyrocketing, and getting a flight out of Russia without paying exorbitant charges is impossible.
The number of Russian migrants arriving in Europe is still relatively small compared to the numbers in some Central Asian nations. However, it does bring up a significant issue for European countries, one that was already brought up soon after Russia invaded Ukraine: what about Russian refugees?
Russian conscripts get mixed reactions
The answer has been quite variable thus far. Some nations, such as the Baltic states, quickly said they would not accept Russian asylum requests. For instance, the foreign minister of Latvia stated that since Russians were okay with killing Ukrainians, it was not appropriate to regard them as conscious objectors. He also added that admitting them would be a security risk and that there are many nations outside of the EU where they could travel.
The foreign minister of Lithuania stated that they would not offer sanctuary to people who were merely evading responsibilities and emphasised that Russians should remain and resist Putin. On the other side, the justice minister of Germany stressed that everyone who despises Putin’s course and cherishes liberal democracy is cordially invited to live and work in Germany.
In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said that Europe should accept Russian citizens trying to emigrate. Even though the EU had already decided to halt its visa-easing agreement with Russia earlier in September, many nations—most notably Finland—effectively closed their borders to Russians after Russia’s draught declaration.
Shortly after these initial reactions, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Johansson declared an EU-wide policy toward those evacuating conscription. She said that member states should conduct a thorough security assessment before issuing visas, that visas should not be given to anyone intending to stay for more than 90 days, and that the right to apply for asylum is a fundamental right that applies to Russians.
What would be the best course of action?
First, Europe has responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine quite cooperatively, and European nations must continue cooperating on the issue of Russian migrants.
However, it is straightforward to understand the feelings surrounding this matter, especially in Eastern European nations, given their history, proximity to Russia, and the fact that it is obvious who is the aggressor in this illegitimate war.
Naturally, it is also comprehensible why Ukrainian migrants inspire greater compassion than Russian refugees, but judgments regarding asylum should always be founded on impartial standards and individual evaluations.
Setting aside feelings is essential for deciding who qualifies as a refugee and who doesn’t. There are measurable standards to determine whether a person is a refugee or not, and all EU nations have ratified international and European conventions governing refugees.
On a broad scale
It is highly troubling if judgments about whether to award refugee status or other forms of protection are increasingly based on our feelings for and sympathy with a particular group as a population, as policymakers, or as politicians.
This was also evident in the remarkable contrast between how refugees from Ukraine were received in Europe and those from farther away. Never should this be the situation.
It will be difficult, and there won’t be much sympathy for Russian refugees among European populations. However, that is the precise time when we need and expect our European leaders to take a stand, be reasonable and objective, and set an exemplary example by proclaiming that Europe is a haven for anyone who has good reasons to flee their home country, regardless of which home country they came from.
As previously indicated, the EU’s declaration of its policy toward Russian refugees takes a step in that direction. However, it’s still not apparent how Russians could ask for asylum, given that there are almost no routes from Russia to the EU.
What is the legal ruling?
Applications must be evaluated individually for each asylum claimant. According to the UNHCR’s handbook on processes and criteria determining refugee status, fear of persecution or punishment for desertion or draught evasion does not automatically or in and of itself constitute a well-founded fear of persecution under the definition of a refugee.
The same manual does, however, offer many explanations in those instances. For instance, when the punishment would be excessive, when it is established that soldiers would be coerced into committing war crimes, as in the case of Ukraine, or when the international community denounces a particular military action as being against the fundamental principles of human decency.
With these clauses in mind, many Russian males attempting to avoid the draught may be considered refugees under international law. Everyone has the right to apply for asylum and have their case considered because all European countries are signatories to the Refugee Convention and other European accords.
A simple refusal to evaluate claims would be against international law. Simply put, if any Russians fleeing the conscription ask for refuge anywhere in the globe, they should be treated as such.
Additionally, blocking the borders and limiting Russians’ access to visas are not solutions. The asylum system is already overburdened in many nations, likely pushing many more Russians into it. All of these individual assertions should then still be evaluated, as was previously argued.
Keeping borders open to Russians does not, and should not, imply that anyone can enter unrestrictedly. Russian operators joining these movements is a concern that may be real. Thus it is essential to monitor who enters European nations closely. However, this is still another justification for carrying out accurate individual evaluations.
What message should be given to the people of Russia?
Importantly, recognising Russians trying to avoid the draught sends a solid message to the Russian people, the Russian leadership, and the rest of the world. It conveys that Europe stands on moral ground and does not allow sentiments towards Russia to taint its impartial asylum procedures.
It sends a message that the EU supports human rights and upholds international commitments no matter where refugees come from—even, as in the case of Russia, if they come from the aggressor. The globe will receive the message that what Russia is doing is wrong.
In addition, a sizable and expanding Russian diaspora outside of Russia, with full access to more unbiased news coverage than they had at home, could also develop into a potent force of opposition to Russia’s leadership, cooperating from abroad and sharing what they hear and see about the war with family and friends left behind in Russia.
Furthermore, Putin’s rhetoric that the West is waging war on Russia would be strengthened if Europe completely closed its borders to Russian men, whether through standard visa procedures or the asylum process; conversely, if the West opened its borders to Russians fleeing their regime, that would undermine Putin’s narrative.
Ukrainian President Zelensky urged Russian men to resist the mobilisation and offered them sanctuary in Ukraine. On a more pragmatic note, the more men leave Russia; the less Russia will have to mobilise and fight in Ukraine.
Supporting non-EU nations in taking in Russian refugees
The number of Russians moving to non-EU countries in Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Central Asia is significantly more significant than that of Russians escaping to the EU, as was already indicated at the beginning of this article.
Given the rising costs of hotels and other goods, the numbers may soon become overwhelming for some of these nations. In most of these nations, the general populace also opposes this war. Portion nations may be concerned about a potential Russian invasion or may already have some of their land taken by Russia, such as Georgia.
The EU must show them that Europe is with them at this crucial time when such significant numbers of Russians are fleeing to these nations, opposing Putin, and refusing to participate in his war in Ukraine.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network