Russians are fleeing to South Korea to escape the war with Ukraine

  • South Korea experienced a five-fold surge in Russian asylum seekers in 2023.

  • The majority of Russian applicants cite conscription avoidance of the war with Ukraine.

  • Two Russians who had fled to evade the draft were stranded at Incheon International Airport for months.

South Korea is experiencing a dramatic surge in asylum seekers from Russia, per a recent government report cited in the Korea Herald.

In 2023, over 5,000 Russian nationals submitted refugee applications, a five-fold increase from the previous year's total of 1,038.

This surge nearly matches the total number of Russian asylum seekers recorded over 26 years, from 1994 to 2019.

Russian asylum seekers are fleeing Russia amid the war against Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin's military mobilization of 300,000 individuals in September 2022 pushed many Russian men to avoid conscription by seeking refuge abroad.

Up to one million Russians had left the country, an Economist report stated in August 2023.

In February 2023, Politico reported that two Russian citizens who had fled to evade conscription had been stranded at Incheon International Airport near Seoul since October. The men were granted the opportunity to enter Korea, but the asylum-seeking process itself could take years, AFP reported at the time.

View over busy Gangnam district at dusk. Seoul. South Korea.
The view over the busy Gangnam district at dusk. Seoul, South Korea.Avalon / Getty

The influx of asylum seekers isn't limited to Russians alone. Last year, South Korea reported 18,838 refugee applications, marking a 63% increase from the previous year. Nationals from Kazakhstan (2,094), China (1,282), Malaysia (1,205), and India (1,189) also contributed to the surge.

Russian applicants accounted for 30.5% of the total appeals, Korea Bizwire reported.

The majority of asylum applications cited "political opinions" as the primary reason for seeking asylum, with 4,580 applicants objecting to conscription, 2,665 concerned about religious issues, 1,205 worried about their membership in specific social groups, 887 seeking to reunite with their families, and 719 citing racial factors.

Despite the surge in asylum applications, South Korea's approval rate for refugee status remains low despite the rise in applications. Out of 5,950 cases evaluated last year, only 1.7% (101 applicants) were granted refugee status.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation's average approval rate is 24.8%, making South Korea a particularly limiting country regarding asylum applications, per the Korea Herald.

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