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UN Says Ukraine War Made Russia Top Asylum Destination

Russian Emergencies Ministry workers help a woman with a child out of a train as refugees from eastern Ukraine arrive at a railway station in the southern city of Stavropol on February 24.

A United Nations report says Russia became the world's single largest recipient of asylum requests last year as a result of the war in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists.

The figures also show that Russian authorities are being far more lenient toward Ukrainians than toward applicants from other countries.

The report by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says a total of 271,200 Ukrainians applied for refugee status or temporary asylum in Russia after the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict -- about 99 percent of the asylum claims in Russia during 2014.

By comparison, the UNHCR cited data from the Ukrainian State Emergency Service that say 823,000 people were internally displaced by the end of 2014 as a result of the fighting.

About 19,000 Ukrainians also filed asylum requests in 67 other countries.

Among them, the countries with the most Ukrainian asylum seekers were Germany with around 2,700; Poland and Italy with roughly 2,100 each; and France with some 1,400.

Russia granted asylum status to about 90 percent of Ukrainians who applied during 2014.

The UN report noted that Ukrainians were predominantly granted temporary asylum in Russia, compared to around 7,000 who received refugee status.

Rights groups say the speedy approval process for Ukrainians stands in stark contrast to asylum seekers from other countries in previous years, when as many as 1 million undocumented foreigners were thought to be in Russia awaiting access to the process of obtaining a ruling on their applications.

Russian authorities also have been notorious for denying refugee status to asylum seekers from other countries in previous years -- with an approval rate of less than 5 percent.

Russia's laws on refugees require asylum seekers who enter the country illegally to file an application with the regional Ministry of the Interior within 24 hours of their arrival. Those who fail to do so face possible imprisonment as illegal immigrants and can face delays on a formal evaluation of their asylum claims.

In the case of Ukrainians, however, Russia has been more accommodating.

Sergei Temryakovich, the head of the Immigration Control Department of Russia's Federal Migration Service, said on June 10 that Moscow had allocated about 10 billion rubles ($1.86 million) to help meet the basic needs of Ukrainian asylum seekers.

Temryakovich also said that 336,000 Ukrainians had been granted asylum or refugee status in Russia by June 10 -- meaning about 65,000 applications have been approved by Russian authorities since the start of 2015.

Kyiv and Western officials accuse Moscow of responsibility for the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 6,400 civilians and combatants, including the supply of troops and heavy weapons and equipment.

With additional reporting by TASS
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