Hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled their homes in recent months because they oppose the war in Ukraine or fear repression. Many ended up in former Soviet states: tens of thousands each in Georgia, Estonia, Tajikistan and Armenia.
Since some of them also come to Germany, politicians have been struggling for months to find the right way to deal with the opposition: Who should they offer protection to and how? We provide an overview of the most pressing questions and political answers.
According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Ukrainians in particular fled to Germany: around 642,000 came between the end of January and the end of April. In the same period, however, the Russian community also grew slightly – from around 269,000 to 274,000, i.e. by around 5,000 people.
Among the newcomers are prominent Russian opposition figures such as the human rights activist Sergej Lukashevski, who fled to Berlin with his family, or the writer Maxim Ossipow, who left for Frankfurt am Main after the start of the war. In addition, programmers emigrated to Germany who, because of the sanctions, have difficulties in continuing to work with Western customers, as the Russian sociologist Igor Eidman says. Young people also came who feared being drafted into military service.
The issue of visas has been a problem so far: in order to be able to come to Germany, Russians need a so-called Schengen visa, which allows short-term stays of up to 90 days. Or a national visa that allows you to work. But while countries like Finland have been issuing more than 10,000 Schengen visas a month to Russian citizens since the beginning of the war, the German missions abroad have been strict for months: around 3,560 Schengen visas were issued to Russians from the beginning of March to the end of May, according to reports from abroad Government office. There are also 5,530 national visas.
Officially, the corona pandemic is the reason for the reluctance. According to an EU Council recommendation, only people who have been vaccinated with a vaccine recognized by the World Health Organization should enter the country. The Russian vaccine Sputnik is not one of them. The Foreign Office is now saying that the EU Council recommendation is “currently” still being followed. Human rights activists report that Germany – unlike other countries – has not offered enough help for a long time.
Russians who came to Germany with a Schengen visa are also in an uncertain situation. Theoretically, they have to leave the country after 90 days and apply for a visa extension at a German diplomatic mission in Russia. If those affected first had to enter and then leave the country again, that would be “unreasonable,” says the expert from the left-wing faction, Clara Bünger.
There were plenty of announcements. Germany has a duty to help the “brave people” in Russia, said the federal government’s Human Rights Commissioner, Luise Amtsberg (Greens), in March. In April, several FDP politicians called for an admission program for Russian deserters. This could be a “contribution to weakening the Russian troops”.
In May, Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced that Russian refugees could be admitted on humanitarian grounds. When asked by this newspaper, her ministry said that the federal government wanted to protect Russians “who are particularly endangered as members of the opposition, journalists or human rights defenders due to their commitment to human rights and against the war”. On the other hand, they want to create opportunities for Russian journalists to report “freely and independently” from Germany.
However, by mid-May only four opposition Russians and their families had been promised admission on humanitarian grounds, according to Faeser’s ministry. The federal government then agreed on an accelerated procedure for issuing visas. Since then, a total of 43 other Russian nationals have been promised admission on humanitarian grounds. If the person aspires to gainful employment in Germany, visas would also be issued for the purpose of gainful employment.
Many Russians are waiting in Armenia or Tajikistan for onward travel to the EU. Some have fled political prosecution and now fear extradition to Russia, says Peter Franck, Russia expert at Amnesty International. It is questionable whether the recordings for humanitarian reasons, which the federal government has announced, will be unbureaucratic. There was a similar regulation for human rights defenders from Belarus. But only a few dozen people came across it.
Franck also criticizes that no solution has yet been found for the majority of Russians who are already in Germany and whose visas are about to expire. “It depends on the goodwill of each individual immigration authority whether people who have entered the country on a Schengen visa will receive an extension of their stay.”
The opposition Union faction calls for a “long-term solution” for critics of Putin’s regime. “Especially critical journalists who spread democratic values in and from Germany should be sure of our support,” says their domestic policy spokesman Alexander Throm (CDU).
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