From Russia with an asylum application

The number of Russian asylum seekers in Europe has barely increased after the Ukraine war began. Here’s why

From Russia with an asylum application

Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. Photo: EPA-EFE/MAXIM SHIPENKOV

On 20 July, the French National Court of Asylum (CNDA) confirmed that Russians who are at risk of being sent to the frontlines can secure asylum in the country. In total, Russian citizens filed 3,350 asylum requests in France in 2022, while around 20% of them were submitted by men aged between 18 and 34.

In 2022, France reviewed 1,595 asylum applications but only granted the protection for 550, just above one-third of them. It’s important to clarify that due to the slow and drawn-out consideration procedure the 2022 statistics relates to the cases filed in 2021 or even in 2020. Therefore, the French court’s decision will only reflect on the asylum statistics much later, once this backlog clears up.

Novaya-Europe presents the highlights of the latest data research by the To Be Precise project to find out what the asylum application process looks like now in Europe and which countries are most likely to grant it.

The surge is not happening

According to Eurostat, Russian citizens filed 18,400 applications for asylum in European countries in 2022. To no one’s surprise, the leaders are Germany (3,855), France (3,350), and Poland (2,215).

Some experts predicted a sharp influx of asylum seekers from Russia in the first year of the Ukraine war, but it didn’t quite happen. Indeed, compared to the COVID years of 2020 and 2021, the number of Russians looking for legal protection in Europe more than doubled. But it makes more sense to compare these numbers with 2019, when European countries registered almost 15,000 asylum petitions from Russians.

The absolute peak of appeals from Russia was registered back in 2013, even before Crimea was annexed. These requests were mostly submitted by Chechens after the region went abuzz with false rumours that Germany offered refugees from North Caucasian regions €4,000 and a plot of land. Berlin repeatedly denied this.

According to Olga Gulina, director of the Institute on Migration Policy, 2022 did not break any Russian refugee records for the following reasons:

Firstly, some EU countries have been toughening up asylum requirements for several years now and introducing special procedures already on the border. These measures are meant to decrease the number of applicants from the countries which do not exhibit a high share of positive asylum request outcomes. Russia also falls within this category.

The second reason, which according to Olga Gulina prevented an influx of asylum-seeking Russians in 2022, is the fact that some European countries practically stopped accepting asylum applications from Russian citizens. The Netherlands and Norway, for instance, openly declared this policy.

In addition to this, after the Ukraine war broke out, several EU countries saw ultra-right parties, who generally back tougher migration standards for all applicants, being elected to governments. Finland and Sweden serve as clear examples of this development. The latter also chaired the Council of the EU for the first six months of 2023, which halted several migration concessions on the Europe-wide level.

Nevertheless, several EU states did see a rush of Russian asylum seekers. Croatia reported an influx of more than hundred-fold: just five such applications were registered in the pre-COVID year of 2019, while 2022 saw 2,065 applicants.

The country’s geographical position is likely behind this increase: Russians do not need a visa to enter Bosnia and Herzegovina and later move to the Croatian border to apply for asylum. Reports that Croatia is used by Russians as a transit zone also point to the same fact: most Russian applicants left the country without receiving their outcomes. Other countries that border Russia — Finland, Latvia, and Estonia — also reported a four to seven time increase in the number of Russian asylum requests. Meanwhile, this number went down in Lithuania.

Waiting list

The challenging and complicated path to obtaining refugee status in Europe is only beginning once the application is submitted. According to the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), 664,000 asylum cases were still waiting to be reviewed in late March 2023. Applicants are waiting for at least six months for a ruling in half of these cases. In 2022, this number of pending applications grew by approximately 15%, but the main backlog formed due to the new files.

EUAA experts also point out that the number of pending cases grew in 2022 because of Colombians and Peruvians (generally in Spain), Turks and Russians (mostly in Germany), and Egyptians (usually in Italy).

Most European countries grant applicants social support for the whole period of the application process. Restrictions are usually imposed on the labour market access, education rights, and certain types of healthcare.

Chances of rejection

Far from every asylum application ends up being granted, especially if Russian citizens are involved. According to Eurostat, Russian requests in Europe were approved only in 33% of cases in 2022. Meanwhile, Ukrainians and Belarusians are far more likely to be offered asylum protections — 90% and 86% respectively.

On average, the chance of getting asylum in Europe stands at 49%. However, this number is not that straightforward: since most cases are submitted by applicants from the Middle East and Africa, their outcomes skew the statistics.

For instance, citizens of Syria and Afghanistan — leaders in the total number of requests made — get positive outcomes in over 80% of the cases, which seriously distorts the average number across all countries. Therefore, Russia and its one-third of approved asylum seekers still ranks in the top ten states with the highest chances of getting asylum in Europe. Meanwhile, Russians on average only make up 1.9% of all people seeking legal protection in Europe.

However, the chances of a Russian application being approved vary greatly from country to country.

In 2022, Ireland and Portugal granted asylum to all applicants. However, the number of cases were quite low: 15 requests in Ireland and five in Portugal.

More than half of the positive outcomes were delivered in the following European countries: the Netherlands (87%), Austria (65%), Italy (61%), Norway (60%), Switzerland (58%), and Spain (53%).

Greece, Denmark, Slovakia, Luxembourg, and Hungary did not sign off on any asylum appeals, but there were only tens of applications in each country anyway.

France and Germany issued most asylum permits for Russians in 2022, but the overall approval rate there is lower than in other European countries. So, Russian citizens filed 3,855 applications in Germany and 3,350 in France in 2022. The national migration services reviewed only 1,740 and 1,595 cases respectively. Considering the waiting list, the reviewed cases were likely lodged in 2021 or even 2020.

In reality, only 300 Russians in Germany and 550 in France received their refugee documents. The rest of the applications were denied. However, in the case of Germany, the rejection does not entail immediate deportation. Olga Gulina also says that a significant number of Russians seeking asylum in Europe can still get the so-called “deportation protection” if their cases are denied. This status allows people to legally stay in the country for up to a year but does not guarantee an allowance, ability to get a job, or access to other social support measures.

Asylum seekers in the US and the UK

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russians began to file asylum applications en masse immediately after crossing the Mexican-US border. As a result, 2022 became a record-breaking year for Russian asylum seekers in the US.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) project, last year Russians submitted 7,169 applications for asylum in the US, which is higher than in the past eight years. However, this number can also be artificially lowered due to the specifics of calculations in the US which vary greatly in comparison with Europe.

Russians have a very high chance of a positive outcome in the US: 88% in 2022 and 86% in 2021. However, these are the cases submitted before the war: asylum applications in the US take up to several years to be reviewed.

The UK also proves to be very hospitable for Russian asylum seekers: 72% of considered applications (195 out of 269) were granted. The Russian chances of success soared by more than four times since 2000 but are still lagging behind those for citizens of Syria and Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, the UK is still not the most popular place for Russian asylum seekers. Russian applications per year stand at between 400 and 500, which is several times lower than in Europe’s most major countries.

Editor in chief — Kirill Martynov. Terms of use. Privacy policy.