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Grozny Denies 10,000 Chechens Have Applied For Asylum In Germany

Chechen asylum seekers and some of their German supporters demonstrate against the deportation of Chechens in Munich in March 2010.

Chechen asylum seekers and some of their German supporters demonstrate against the deportation of Chechens in Munich in March 2010.

The Chechen government has formally denied media reports that up to 10,000 Chechens have requested political asylum in Germany. Isa Khadzhimuradov, head of the Chechen government's External Relations Department, told a press conference in Grozny that German official statements that some 10,000 Chechens had applied for asylum in Germany were untrue. Khadzhimuradov said that "a large number" of those 10,000 asylum-seekers were not Chechens and had no connection with Chechnya.

Over the past four months, both "Die Welt" and the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" have published in-depth reports on the flight of Chechens from what "Die Welt" calls Chechen leader "Ramzan Kadyrov's feudal regime." In mid-May, "Die Welt" cited German government statistics showing that in April alone, 2,055 citizens of the Russian Federation requested asylum in Germany, more than twice as many as in the previous month. The overwhelming majority were Chechens, the paper said, quoting unnamed security officials.

In an article titled "A Village Comes Every Week," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" cited updated German Interior Ministry figures showing that 9,957 Russian citizens applied for asylum in Germany during the first six months of this year, compared with 3,200 for the whole of 2012. That paper, too, quoted security officials as saying "almost 90 percent" of the applications were by Chechens. Those figures suggest that the number of Chechen asylum seekers is increasing exponentially.

ALSO READ: In Poland, Chechen Asylum Seekers Languish In Limbo

A journalist from the daily who witnessed the arrival at the Belarusian-Polish border of a train from Moscow estimated that it carried well over 100 Chechens, a figure he said was normal. He quoted a German immigration official as saying that on some days the number is as high as 300.

The problems and abuses that impel Chechens to flee Kadyrov's "feudal regime" have been exhaustively documented: a total lack of freedom of speech; arbitrary brutal reprisals by security personnel; and a total disregard for the law, all of which combine to induce what Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina describes as "a fear so intense it becomes part of one's personality." Add to the mix routine demands by bureaucrats for kickbacks for the most basic services and a lack of employment opportunities, and it is little wonder that, in Gannushkina's words, whole streets decide collectively to sell their homes, rent a bus, and head for the West.

A group of asylum seekers including Chechens are stranded on a train on Poland's border with Germany. Poland accepts even fewer Chechen asylum requests than Germany.

A group of asylum seekers including Chechens are stranded on a train on Poland's border with Germany. Poland accepts even fewer Chechen asylum requests than Germany.

German immigration officials are largely skeptical, however. They argue that the fighting in Chechnya ended over a decade ago, the region is peaceful, and that Chechens who see no future in their home republic could easily settle elsewhere in Russia (although that latter assumption is questionable given Kadyrov's surveillance of and influence over Chechen communities elsewhere in Russia). Those officials are therefore inclined to view the Chechen exodus as economically motivated, according to "Die Welt."

The German intelligence services, for their part, see the Chechen influx as a potential security threat.

According to Hans-Georg Maassen, who heads the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt fuer Verfassungsschutz), the domestic intelligence service, some 200 supporters of the "Caucasus Emirate" resident in Germany are under surveillance. Khadzhimuradov is not reported to have referred to that statement at his press conference, even though the Chechen leadership rarely lets slip an opportunity to denigrate the emirate and its self-proclaimed leader, Doku Umarov.

As a result of official misgivings with regard to the Chechen asylum seekers' motives, the percentage of such requests granted is just 8.1 percent in Germany, compared with 84 percent in Austria. In Poland, the figure is even lower -- 3.5 percent, and in Slovakia, Chechens' asylum requests are almost always rejected.

Why, then, do the Chechens nonetheless choose Germany? Gannushkina refers to rumors circulating in Chechnya that Germany is ready to take in 40,000 Chechens and allocate every family a plot of land. German immigration officials, by contrast, are reportedly convinced that Chechens who want to leave Russia are being encouraged and exploited by criminal groups who demand exorbitant fees for the assistance they provide.

In addition, access from Russia to Poland, and thus to the Schengen zone, has become easier since Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka loosened border controls and reduced the number of border guards last year, making good on his threat during a dispute with the European Union over his suppression of the political opposition to open his country's borders to allow a flood of illegal immigrants to enter the EU.

As a result, Chechens who arrive by train in Brest and are in possession of a valid Russian passport are now able to freely board a local cross-border train for the 15-minute journey to Terespol in Poland, even if they are not in possession of a Polish visa.

On arrival in Poland, some are sent straight back to Belarus, but frequently make a second attempt to enter Poland. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" quoted a colonel in the Belarusian border guards as estimating that there are currently some 20,000 Chechens in Belarus preparing to enter Poland.

Those Chechens with a Schengen visa then proceed to Germany to ask for asylum, as do some who requested asylum in Poland on their arrival there. The latter category have virtually no chance of being permitted to remain in Germany.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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