On March 24, President Joe Biden visited Brussels during a tour of Western Europe to increase sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine. While there, Biden announced that the United States will welcome 100,000 Ukrainians who choose to seek refuge here. This is a timely and totally appropriate offer of humanitarian relief under domestic and international law to a people whose country has been aggressively invaded, and who are systematically being murdered by Russia.
An offer of refugee protection normally will be processed at a Refugee Support Center within Ukraine or in a neighboring country through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). All applicants for refugee status will be fully vetted, a process that will take months and even years, before being approved to enter the United States.
After some deep thinking, I am writing to add that Russian people too may also be in need of asylum protection from Putin. First, we need to understand that asylum involves a subset of refugee law. While a refugee seeking entry must apply and be approved from outside the United States, an asylum seeker applies from within. While it is impossible for a Refugee Support Center to operate within Russia or even another country specifically for Russians, it is quite feasible to offer immediate asylum protection to Russian people who are already here or manage to enter or arrive in the future. Under asylum law, non-citizens who “arrive” at our borders can request a “credible fear” interview by agents of the Border Patrol for the purpose of entering and filing asylum.
The basis for protection is the same for both refugees and asylees; that is showing proof of being either the victim of past persecution or having a well-founded fear of future persecution in the home country. Persecution is defined as the infliction of severe suffering or harm upon those who differ in race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Actually, persecution usually is caused by one’s own government, a scenario which favors Russians fleeing from Putin than Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion. However, in addition to being victims of international armed conflict, persecution furthers allows protection from forces operating in one’s home country which one’s own government is unable to control, all of which qualifies Ukrainians for refugee status.
While the whole world is focused on Ukrainians suffering death and injury from the missiles and bombs of Putin, there are Russians too who are in urgent need of protection. Russian people who take a stand against Putin have been beaten, jailed, poisoned, disappeared, or otherwise murdered.
Of course, we must welcome Ukrainian refugees fleeing for their lives from the Russian invasion. At the same time. we must not forget that there are a smaller but increasing number of vulnerable Russians who cannot return to their homeland out of genuine fear for their lives and liberty because their sincere political opposition as Russians against the tyranny of Vladimir Putin.
Charleston C. K. Wang is a resident of Silverton and a Cincinnati immigration lawyer who practices the law of asylum and protection under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).