A Ukranian refugee sits with children in a center for refugees in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk. Photo: SERGEI SUPINSKY/Scanpix
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.”
Denmark saw more than a threefold increase in Ukrainians seeking asylum between 2013 and 2014.
According to the Danish Immigration Service, there were 133 Ukrainian asylum applicants in 2014 compared to just 40 in 2013. Eurostat puts the number of Ukrainian asylum seekers in Denmark just slightly higher at 135.
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, 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.
In Denmark, ten Ukrainian asylum applicants were rejected in their first attempts, and none were accepted in 2014, according to Eurostat data.
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.”
The number of Ukrainian asylum seekers through the first two months of 2015 has dropped significantly in both Denmark and across the EU. Just nine Ukrainians sought asylum in Denmark in January and there were only three last month.
According to Zelvenska, only 125 Ukrainians applied for asylum across Europe in February.
Denmark has seen asylum numbers across the board drop significantly since the implementation of new stricter rules. Just 440 people sought asylum in Denmark in February, the lowest single-month tally since May 2012.
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.