Vienna, March 27 – Only Somalis and Iraqis whose countries are enmeshed in military conflicts sought political asylum abroad more frequently in 2008 than did citizens of the Russian Federation, but Moscow officials say that most of the Russian citizens who did so were from the North Caucasus, Russia’s very own war zone.
Moscow media are giving prominent attention to a UN report showing that 20,477 Russians sought political asylum in other countries in 2008, nine percent more than a year earlier, and a national figure exceeded only by Iraq (with more than 40,000 applications) and Somalia (22,000) (www.sobkorr.ru/news/49CB270DED645.html).
Nearly a third of Russians who took this step sought political asylum in Poland (6647), another third between France and Austria (3579 and 3426 respectively), with the remainder scattered primarily in European and Scandinavian countries. At the same time, officials said, 3970 foreigners sought asylum in the Russian Federation.
Most of the Russian citizens seeking asylum abroad came from the North Caucasus, and their reasons for leaving, Konstantin Poltoranin, a spokesman for the Federal Migration Service, said, had less to do with the overall political situation in Russia than with the danger that they would be at risk of blood feud retribution.
Rights activists disagreed with that assessment. Lidiya Grafova, president of the International Forum of Resettlement Organizations, said that “the causes which cause people to leave Russia are several: uncertainty about tomorrow is growing and the political crisis is continuing.” And she said that Russian xenophobia is also playing a role.
In commenting on this report, Sobkorr.ru’s Sergey Petrunin said that he has two reactions to these numbers and this pattern. On the one hand, he said, the number of those seeking asylum should be compared to the size of the population, and in this case, Russia is far from among the leaders in per capita outflows. Indeed, it is far down on the list.
But on the other, he said, this report prompts him to ask, “have not there emerged in the Caucasus de facto particular regimes which are only nominally subordinate to Russia and in its legal field but now have in fact evolved into such social-political systems in which it is just as dangerous to live as it is in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia?”
And that in turn, he suggests, raises the even more disturbing question: is it perhaps now the case that people living there are so at risk “of being kidnapped, tortured or killed” that they are ready to vote with their feet and flee to the ends of the order even if they have always been and remain “proud mountaineers who love their region?”