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No. of Russian asylum-seekers in Korea soars to nearly 9,000 since start of war in Ukraine

A member of Voices in Korea, an anti-war group, speaks during a rally in Seoul, May 14, calling for acceptance of more Russian asylum-seekers into Korea. The number of Russians seeking asylum in Korea has soared to nearly 9,000 since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, an official at the Ministry of Justice said on Wednesday. Yonhap

The number of Russians seeking asylum in Korea has soared to nearly 9,000 since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

An official at the Ministry of Justice told The Korea Times on Wednesday that 8,871 Russians had applied for refugee status here between January 2022 and this May.

Given that only 45 Russians sought asylum during the whole year of 2021, most, if not all, of the 1,038 Russians who sent their applications to the ministry’s asylum adjudicators in 2022 are believed to have come to Korea after the war in Ukraine started.

During the first five months of this year, 2,083 applications were already sent in, an average of 416 every month. If this trend continues into 2024, the number is expected to exceed last year’s total, 5,705, by the end of the year.

Russian men seeking asylum in Korea and other countries have gained much attention since the beginning of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with hundreds of thousands of Russians leaving their country since ― many of them fleeing military conscription.

When asked how many of the Russian asylum-seekers have obtained the status here so far, the ministry official refused to answer, citing privacy and security.

However, administrative and judicial precedents suggest that their chances are extremely low. In May, a court in Seoul ruled in favor of a Russian national who was challenging the ministry’s rejection of his asylum application, the first instance of such a ruling.

The exceptional ruling was possible, thanks only to evidence that clearly showed that the man had expressed his opposition to the Kremlin’s war on social media openly and repeatedly and that he participated in anti-war protests before entering Korea in November 2022.

Those who do not have such evidence will likely be disappointed as Korea’s Refugee Act acknowledges one of only five reasons 안전 as acceptable ― the risk of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political view and social status as a member of certain groups. The refusal of conscription does not fall into any of those categories.

Korea is known for its high rejection rate for asylum applications among developed countries. In 2023, only 101 out of 18,838 were given refugee status here.

A surge in the number of asylum-seeking Russian men has become a conundrum for many other countries as well.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reportedly encountered more than 57,000 Russians at U.S. borders in the 2023 fiscal year, up from some 13,000 the previous year.

Germany received 7,663 first-time asylum applications from Russians last year, up from 2,851 in 2022.

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