Running from Russia to . . . Poland

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graphic2Citizens of the Russian Federation comprise of the third highest number of asylum seekers according to statistics complied by the UN Refugee Agency.

The top country of origin of asylum applicants in 2008 was Iraq (40,500, down 10 percent from 45,100 in 2007), followed by Somalia (21,800), the Russian Federation (20,500), Afghanistan (18,500) and China (17,400). Of the 10 main nationalities claiming asylum last year, some remained stable while others registered significant increases.

Countries of origin recording a significant rise in applications included Afghanistan (up 85 percent), Zimbabwe (up 82 percent), Somalia (up 77 percent), Nigeria (up 71 percent) and Sri Lanka (up 24 percent). All of these countries experienced unrest or conflicts in 2008.

And where are Russian citizens going?  Poland, of all places.  According to the report, “As in 2007, Poland remained the prime destination for asylum-seekers from the Russian Federation in 2008, with a total of 6,600 new claims.” Poland was followed by France and Austria as the main places citizens from Russia seek asylum.

However, ethnic Russians aren’t the ones bolting from their homeland.  The majority of asylum applicants are Chechens and Ingush.  The reason why they look to Poland for asylum is because of the country’s proximity to Russia.  Poland is the nearest country in the Schengen zone and asylum there potentially opens up migration to other EU countries.  Plus, many citizens from the North Caucuses go to Poland because they are more likely to have contacts there.  “Many Chechens went to Poland during the [Chechen] war,” says Lidiya Grafova from the Emigrant Organization Forum.  “But the reason they go there now glaringly marks the regime of Ramzan Kadyrov.  Residents of Dagestan and Ingushetia seek asylum because they are constantly under fire.  Moreover, I think that growing xenophobia has forced out persons of Caucausian nationality, living in various regions in the RF, out of Russia.”

Graphic: UNHCR