Why are Russians not refugees?

Why are Russians not refugees?

On September 21, Vladimir Putin announced the beginning of partial mobilization in the Russian Federation. Many Russians obediently went to the military commissariats. A minor part headed for the borders to leave the country. In the scale of Russia, this little part is hundreds of thousands. 

Now they will try to arrange life abroad. This concerns not only work or housing. The question of what legal grounds Russians will stay abroad is also essential.

Controversy in the EU

Are Russians fleeing mobilisation refugees? There is no clear answer in the EU. Europe remains divided on whether the Russians are responsible for a full-scale invasion. 

Poland, the Baltic States, and the Czech Republic favour this. The countries believe that Russians should not be encouraged to leave because it reduces resistance to the regime. 

"They should protest, say they are against this war and finally stop it," said Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. 

Germany, France, Spain, and Austria do not share this position. On the contrary, they believe they should encourage the departure. Politicians of these countries justify it because the more Russians leave Russia, the weaker the Russian army will be. Furthermore, they mention the need to protect shared values. 

"Those who share our values must have a place among us," said Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares. German Justice Minister Macro Buschmann invited all Russians who like liberal democracy to Germany. The fact that these countries do not consider Russians responsible for Putin's regime explains everything.

However, this issue also has a legal aspect. Punishing all Russians will not be possible, no matter how much we want to. European legislation will allow many Russian citizens to get asylum or at least "subsidiary protection".  

Visas are only available in the Russian Federation

The EU will not introduce a collective migration regime for Russians, as it was for Ukrainian citizens. Even traditionally supportive of Russia, Austria does not consider it appropriate.

Therefore, every Russian citizen who wants to get to the EU will have to either get a visa or cross the border outside the border crossing points. Getting a permit will not be easy: only dissidents and people whose relatives in the EU suddenly fell ill can apply for it outside the Russian Federation. 

Russians will try to get into the EU unnoticed by crossing the external border. Thus, on September 26, a Russian citizen swam across the Narva River, which separates Russia and Estonia. However, there is a readmission agreement between Russia and the EU, which allows the return of its citizens to Russia if they do not have legal grounds to stay in the EU member state. The Estonian police used it, and on the same day, the man was again on the Russian side of the border. He did not apply for asylum. Otherwise, Estonian police would have had to take him to a temporary reception centre while they were considering his application. 

Can Russians apply for refugee status?

The Common European Asylum System rests on the UN Refugee Convention. It defines a refugee as a person threatened with persecution in the country of origin for "race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion". At first glance, it may seem that this does not apply to Russians, who cannot apply for asylum. 

At the same time, this article can be interpreted in another way, as the European Court of Justice did in the case of a Syrian who fled the country to not serve in the army. The court ruled that refusal to fill in the military leads to severe punishment. The authoritarian regime interprets avoiding service as a form of protest. 

The asylum seeker has to prove that he belongs to one of the threatened groups. In the case of Russians, such proof can be a summons. Latvia shares this opinion. 

"Latvia will consider asylum applications of those fugitives from Russia who will have mobilisation documents," the Ministry of Defense said in a comment to Business Insider. 

However, in the same Syrian practice, the European Asylum Support Agency noted that conscription or mobilisation documents were not a mandatory minimum for asylum. Instead, the "draft avoiders" had to prove their compliance with the criteria of conscription or mobilisation. In the Russian case, it will be a military ticket, which narrows the number of Russian citizens who can apply for refugee status. 

What will it be like in practice?  

Since 2018, a civil war has been going on in Ethiopia. During 2021, both government troops and the so-called Tigrayan Army conducted forced mobilisation. In the first half of 2022, the EU considered applications for refugee status from about 100 thousand Ethiopians aged 18 to 34. In the first quarter of the year, the share of positive responses was 35%, and in the second - 39%.

During the "mobilisation" weeks, more than 300 thousand people left Russia. The number will increase, although not so actively. The data from the Federal Customs Service show a slowdown in road traffic at the borders. Most of them do not stay in Russia's neighbouring countries but move on. Those who have a Schengen visa will be able to enter the EU.