France to offer asylum to Russian defectors but plans slammed as ‘naïve’

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France has taken a significant step towards offering refuge to Russian soldiers who have refused to participate in the conflict in Ukraine.

The French National Court of Asylum (CNDA) announced on Thursday, July 20, that it is able to grant refugee status to Russian army deserters seeking asylum in the country.

This groundbreaking move marks the first of its kind in France, derived from a European directive and a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

According to the CNDA’s press release, “Russians fleeing mobilisation for the war in Ukraine and those mobilised who have deserted can obtain refugee status”, due to the potential risk of committing war crimes while under the Russian army’s orders.

The roots of this law trace back to a European directive issued on December 13, 2011 and a landmark ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union on February 26, 2015.

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Some critics expressed concerns over the decision.

French analyst Denys Kolesnyk wrote: “And what to do with all these Russian men who support the war, but who do not want to participate in it? Also refugee status? What about those who participated in war crimes? Do we really have the means to verify this? The decision of the CNDA is regrettable.”

A French citizen under the Twitter handle @FalconNY786 said: “Nice gateway for Russian spies disguised as deserters…! Incredible this French naivety…”

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However, not all applications have been met with approval, as demonstrated by the CNDA’s rejection of the asylum application of a Russian man who claimed deserter status.

The court was unable to establish the veracity of his claim regarding his mobilisation in the context of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.

One Russian applicant, who fled his homeland in April 2019 citing “violent and repeated” acts by his father, faced a challenging legal battle.

He had received two summonses as part of President Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilisation efforts, in the context of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A “grand panel” of nine judges carefully evaluated the applicant’s case after the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) initially rejected it due to doubts surrounding the authenticity of his account.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.

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