Tens of thousands of refugees from Syria continue toflee unrest by traveling to Europe and neighboringcountries.
But many do not seek refuge in Russia, despitelongtime political and economic relations between thetwo countries.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner forRefugees, or UNHCR, there were 238,836 refugeesand asylum seekers in Russia as of January. Only2,340 were from Syria. And that number has dropped toabout 1,600.
Turkey has taken in over 2 million Syrians. Germany isexpected to have as many as 1.5 million refugees by the end of this year. Most of those refugees are fromSyria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bayisa Wak-Woya is the UNHCR representative forRussia. He said, “Unlike in the West, where peoplehave a tradition of dealing with asylum-seekers andrefugees for the last six, seven decades, here it’s a fairly new phenomenon.” And many in Russia view refugees as foreigners and migrants.
Another reason is the great distance from Syria to Russia. The distancebetween Moscow and Damascus is about 2,500 km. That means most Syrianasylum-seekers have to come by plane, not by boat, bus, and train like thosearriving in Europe.
A UNHCR spokesman says Russia's airstrikes could increase the number ofSyrian refugees to neighboring countries like Turkey. But he adds that a jumpin the number of asylum seekers arriving in Russia is unlikely.
Russia has granted refugee status for 790 people as of January. Most are from Afghanistan and Ukraine. Only two persons are from Syria.
Elena Burtina is with the refugee aid group Civic Assistance Committee inMoscow. She notes that the much smaller Republic of Malta has givenrefugee status to more people than Russia.
"Russia ratified the convention on refugees," she said. "It's taken on theresponsibility to accept them. Of course it should do more. They shouldn'thave signed if they didn't want refugees. They weren't forced to do it."