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Surge in Ukrainian asylum seekers to Spain

Emma Anderson · 25 Mar 2015, 18:12

Published: 25 Mar 2015 18:12 GMT+01:00

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Spain saw one of the most dramatic increases in Ukrainian asylum seekers in  2014 with just 15 applying in 2013 compared to 895 people in 2014, or 60 times that of 2013.

In fact Ukrainians made up the second largest group of asylum seekers in Spain, after the 1,510 Syrian applicants.

UN report surge in worldwide refugees driven by Syria and Iraq conflicts.

However, Spain rejected 80 Ukrainians in their first asylum application attempts, and by the end of 2014 had not accepted any applicants, according to the Eurostat data.

Overall, the number of Ukrainian asylum seekers in the 28 EU member states ballooned to 14,040 people in 2014 - more than 13 times higher than the number in 2013 at 1,060 applicants.

That number is even greater when compared to 2008, the beginning of the global economic crisis, when 925 Ukrainians applied for asylum.

"What we have seen from our members working with asylum seekers are those who are fleeing the conflict in the east of Ukraine," Julia Zelvenska, a senior legal officer at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, told The Local. "In the past, it has been for political persecution, like in 2013, or for sexual orientation."

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said last month that an estimated one million Ukrainians were displaced internally, with many people moving west. Some 600,000 people had sought asylum, many of them in non-EU countries such as Russia, Belarus and Moldova.

But many Ukrainians also applied for asylum in the European Union in 2014, a year that started with a revolution in Kiev and the ousting of the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Russia then annexed Crimea in March, in a move widely condemned around the world, before propping up separatists fighting bloody battles with Ukrainian forces in the east of the country.

Of those who applied for asylum in 2014, only 650 Ukrainians received positive outcomes on their first application decision in the EU. Eurostat defines positive outcomes as grants of refugee or subsidiary protection status, or an authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons.

Still, those who received good news were greatly outnumbered by those who were rejected in their first try - 2,335.

The stats show that Germany was the EU nation that received the highest number of Ukrainian asylum requests at 2,705 - 18 times greater than the 150 who applied in 2013.

Zelvenska explained to The Local that it is generally very hard for Ukrainians to gain asylum in EU member states, or to even reach those countries in the first place.

"One of the main reasons people get rejected may be that many countries are not clear on how the situation developed and won’t issue decisions until it is clear how the Ukrainian situation is going to develop," she said.

"European countries are also being very formalistic in the criteria for asylum," Zelvenska added. "For example, they may say that there are options for alternative protection already within Ukraine. For people in the east, they may say that they could relocate to the west."

Zelvenska noted though that reasons for rejection are not made public so it is difficult to know for certain.

"We think it’s not necessary to apply all the criteria in a strict manner," she said. "They must consider each case, country and the circumstances."

Last year, EU countries received the highest number of asylum seekers since 1992 with a total of 626,000 applicants. More than 400,000 people applied in 2013.

But it appeared that the rate of Ukrainians applying for asylum had slowed since the start of 2015.

"Recent number of asylum applications by Ukrainian asylum seekers in Europe indeed increased in 2014, but have so far been decreasing in 2015," Zelvenska said. "In general, the numbers still remain quite low, for example, in February 2015 only 125 Ukrainians applied for asylum in Europe."

 She explained that "it can be assumed that the reason for displacement was lined to the armed conflict in the country and related serious harm or persecution.

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"I would like to stress again that Ukrainian asylum seekers as well as asylum seekers of other nationalities experience a number of problems when trying to reach Europe, in fact opportunities for safe and regular ways of accessing Europe are almost non-existent and even refugees are not exempt of general visa requirements."

Most of those Ukranians applying for asylum chose to do so in a country that they already had some link to.

"Many Ukrainian nationals, who applied for asylum in [Germany, Spain, Italy, France or Sweden], were those, who were already in a European country, for example, working or studying (sur place protection seekers), when the situation in Ukraine had changed.

"Asylum applicants choose specific countries usually because they either have friends or family in this particular country, could rely on the support from the community, sometimes speak the language or might have other ties with this country," the senior legal officer at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles said.



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Emma Anderson (emma.anderson@thelocal.com)

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