The Russian attack on Ukraine generated millions of internally displaced persons and refugees. The latter, for the most part, sought refuge in the countries of the European Union. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees counted more than seven million people entering the European Union through Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Almost two million have already returned and the rest, mostly women, received temporary protection while waiting to find out if they request definitive asylum or if they end up returning to their country. No one hesitated to open the European door to them or to give them that temporary protection status. They were fleeing an illegal war. And they were not Arabs, like the Syrians, to whom the door was finally closed when they exceeded one million. But that’s a story for another day.
The argument that was used to give protection to Ukrainians (the vast majority of whom are mothers with dependent children and elderly people) should serve to give protection for those now fleeing Russia for fear of being forcibly enlisted and sent to war in Ukraine. The partial mobilization decreed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, by which he intends to reinforce his Army with 300,000 reservists, provoked demonstrations and protests in Russia. On the still open borders, Russian men who want to flee before being enlisted accumulate and flights to countries that do not ask for a visa, such as Turkey or Armenia, have been full since yesterday.
Border between Russia and Georgia tonight: Russians fleeing via Larsi Checkpoint. pic.twitter.com/9s684mm2Ca
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) September 21, 2022
Brussels looks at Finland, Latvia and Estonia (the three countries of the European Union with a direct border with Russia) and to a lesser extent to Poland and Lithuania, countries bordering the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Estonia and Finland are just two hours’ drive from St. Petersburg. What to do if the number of male Russians who knock on the doors of the European Union asking for asylum begins to be considerable? A community source explained this Thursday that there is no sanction that prevents a Russian from seeking asylum in any of the 27 member states of the European Union and that they must be guided by the European Asylum Directive. That is fulfilled in this way, as evidenced by the illegal deportations from Greece or on the fences of Ceuta and Melilla, from Hungary, from Bulgaria or from Poland, but that is also another story. The same source assures that in principle they should be given asylum if they show that they ask for it to avoid being enlisted: “they flee from a dictatorship that wants to send them to a war that we ourselves call illegal.”
But the European Directive and the United Nations Refugee Convention are one thing and the ideas of the border governments with Russia quite another. Estonia already made it clear yesterday. Its Foreign Minister, Urmas Reinsalu, assured the Reuters agency that “the refusal to comply with a civil obligation in Russia or the desire to do so do not constitute sufficient elements to receive asylum in another country.” His Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevics gave another reason: “Due to security reasons, Latvia will not issue humanitarian or other visas to Russian citizens who avoid mobilization.”
Drošības apsvērumu dēļ Latvija neizsniegs humānās vai cita veida vīzas tiem Krievijas pilsoņiem, kuri izvairās no mobilizācijas, kā arī nemainīs kopš 19.septembra ieviestos robežšĠķīrsošanas ierobežojumusņevijas
— Edgars Rinkēvičs (@edgarsrinkevics) September 21, 2022
Lithuania kept the forms but aimed at the same end. “We will study (asylum applications) in an ordinary way, taking into account all the circumstances and on an individual basis.” “But,” its foreign ministry said in a statement, “Lithuania has neither the intention nor the ability to issue visas on humanitarian grounds to all Russian citizens who request them.” Finland does not close the door but its Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto he did say on Wednesday that the granting of visas will be strict. Poland will not accept them either. The European Commission tried to remind governments on Thursday of their legal obligations. A community spokesperson said that “European law must be respected and the authorities must guarantee access to asylum procedures.” The message that the Community Executive is trying to send is that the 27 must be in solidarity with those who flee from Putin’s military mobilization.