23rd Oct 2016

Ukrainians seek EU asylum as conflict goes on

  • Protesters in Kiev (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has prompted more than 2,000 Ukrainians to apply for asylum in the EU.

The usual rate, of 100 a month, did not change during the internal unrest leading to the overthrow of former leader Viktor Yanukovych in February.

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But numbers jumped to 600 or 700 a month from March, when Russia invaded Crimea, according to figures published by Easo, the EU’s Malta-based asylum agency, on Monday (7 July).

Easo director Robert K. Visser told press in Brussels that most applicants were already living in EU countries.

He said applications by residents are normal in the first phase of a conflict, followed by border crossings if it escalates.

He added that Ukrainian applicants were “traditionally” refused asylum in the EU, but “now people are taking a wait-and-see approach to see how the situation evolves”.

The EU figure is tiny compared to the 110,000 Ukrainians said by the UN to have crossed the border into Russia.

But home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom underlined that Syria is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the EU neighbourhood.

More than 3 million people have fled the country, but fewer than 100,000 of them have sought refuge in Europe.

One reason is because most EU states are unwilling to take them from camps in Lebanon, Jordan, or Turkey, which means they cannot reach EU borders to apply.

“People end up embarking on rickety vessels [across the Mediterranean Sea] because there are so few legal ways to get to Europe … more work must be done on resettlement,” Malmstrom said.

“Looking back over the years, probably many thousands of people have drowned”.

Visser also said he has seen “no real increase in numbers” from Iraq despite the new civil war.

But the number of Eritrean applicants went up suddenly in 2014 even though there were “no dramatic changes” in Eritrea, while the number of Russian asylum seekers fell steeply.

Last year saw the highest figure of asylum applications in Europe since EU-level data collection began in 2009, with 435,760 files lodged.

Most applicants came from the Western Balkans, Syria, Russia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The preferred countries to lodge applications were Germany, France, Sweden, the UK, and Italy.

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