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Wave after wave: emigration as a new trend in Russia


One of the consequences of the beginning of the war in Ukraine has been the migration flow away from Russia itself, and five months later it is only getting worse.

Experts have repeatedly stated that it is difficult to give real figures for the outflow of population: some say the figure is around 200,000 , whilst others say it is closer to half a million. Russia itself only counts those who have deregistered, however, not many would be willing to enter into such close contact with the government given the current situation.

It may seem easier to count using the data of the host countries, but there is a problem: not all states are willing to provide accurate statistics. One state that does however, the Ministry of Economy of Georgia,  in early March stated that about 25 thousand people crossed the border of Georgia.

In addition, quite often the place of crossing the Russian border is not the final destination for emigrants, which further complicates the counting system.

Whatever the case, one thing is clear: the current wave of emigration is the biggest in recent decades and by far the biggest in the 21st century.

In the first month and a half after the war, due to the lack of direct flights and bureaucratic problems, most Russians took the well-trodden path of their compatriots to Central Asia or the Caucasus.

Some went to Armenia and Georgia where Russian passport holders are allowed to stay without a visa for six months to a year, while others used Turkey as a springboard for some 60 days to plan further travels and choose a third country of destination.

Much less is known about departures to EU countries, some of which offer assistance to human rights defenders, journalists and political activists from Russia.

Back in late March, Louise Amtsberg, the German government commissioner for human rights, argued for easier entry into Germany for Russians:

"In Russia, the repression of dissidents is getting tougher, especially because of the reaction to the war. We have an obligation to help these brave people, because they too are defending freedom, democracy and human rights in Europe."

In April, German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann announced an easier asylum procedure for citizens who have left the Russian Federation working for international companies, as well as for human rights defenders, cultural activists and journalists who criticise Putin.

Unlike Ukrainians, who receive temporary protection status automatically when they cross the Ukrainian border into any EU country, Russians have to go through a number of formal procedures.

Up until the end of May, citizens of the Russian Federation who had left their homeland and wished to settle in Europe had to go through a standard asylum application procedure, which potentially involves several months of waiting for a decision by the responsible authorities in a designated camp.

According to a report from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), the number of Russians applying for asylum in Germany remained quite low in the spring and there was no significant difference from the same figure up to February 2022.

In February 2022, 132 Russian citizens applied for asylum in Germany and in March, 137.

The situation may now change abruptly: after several months of negotiations, German ministries finally agreed by early summer on the criteria in which Germany will be able to grant the national German visa with the right to work at an accelerated rate.

After agreement at the German Foreign Ministry and Ministry of the Interior, the list of professions for people applying for documents under the simplified procedure includes scientists, journalists and artists.

Vorwärts explains that those who have previously supported the opposition in Russia and have been active in politics stand a good chance. Also, those who face political persecution in Russia for publishing data on the "military operation" in Ukraine that differs from the official state position may also qualify for special status.

In other words, the mere turbulence of the country's situation is not grounds for asylum: Rather, the German authorities look at each individual's personal history and circumstances.

Whereas at the beginning of the war Germany was almost the only country willing to accept Russians who disagreed with the government, now the Baltic States, for example, have also stated their willingness to help those persecuted in Russia. As such, in June, Reforum Space, an organisation specialising in supporting the newest political refugees from Russia and Belarus, was opened in Tallinn.

In the case of Russia, these are mostly young people who actively opposed the war and were prosecuted.

Lithuania also provides asylum to Russian opposition activists: the Free Russia Forum is headquartered in Vilnius.

Latvia, on the other hand, has come to the rescue of Moscow journalists by granting long-term visas to those whose publications have been shut down in their home countries. "Dozhd" and "Novaya Gazeta. Europe" has now reopened in Riga.

While more and more countries are formulating new rules and easing conditions for entry, political analysts warn that it is still too early to judge the real figures of the outflow, and that the next wave of emigration of Russians can be expected in the coming months.

According to experts in Russia itself, the second wave will be more numerous and diverse and will include representatives of the academic environment and business people.

Author: Anastasia Tyukhtina

Cover photo:


"An asylum seeker from Russia is more helpless than a refugee from Somalia. A Somali will have a working bank card open in their country."

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