THE NUMBER OF asylum seekers from Russia arriving at the U.S. southern border has risen dramatically in the past year. Hundreds of thousands of Russians have left their homeland since President Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Some fear increasing economic hardship and that Putin will impose martial law and close the borders, and some are fleeing to follow their conscience.
In September, the Kremlin announced its first military mobilization for soldiers to fight in Ukraine, prompting the departure of tens of thousands of Russian men. A second mobilization may occur this fall. Many of those who have fled hold religious or moral beliefs that tell them that participation in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is wrong. Many young men have come to the United States seeking asylum as conscientious objectors (COs) based on their refusal to be drafted into Russia’s military for reasons of moral conscience.
At the Center on Conscience and War, we began hearing about these cases in fall 2022 — and found very few resources to support them. A handful of immigration attorneys are taking on a few of these cases, but the demand is much greater than the help available. This spring, our center initiated a Freedom of Information Act request to learn exactly how many of the asylum seekers are making claims based on conscientious objection to military conscription.