Can I Apply for Asylum in the U.S. If I'm From Ukraine?

Persecution of the LGBT community and Crimean Tatars are the most likely bases for asylum claims from Ukraine.

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The complexity of Ukraine's current human rights situation -- and therefore its citizens' likely prospects to receive asylum in the U.S. -- can be seen by its rating as “partly free” by the organization Freedom House (see its Freedom in the World report, 2013). That organization also gave Ukraine a “downward trend arrow” because of 2012 flawed parliamentary elections.

Human rights problems in Ukraine include societal violence against women as well as discrimination and violence against members of the LGBT community. (See the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013, Ukraine.)

In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. According to a BBC News report, “Ukraine crisis: New hopes and fears for Crimea Tatar refugees,” May 20, 2014, thousands of Crimean Tatars left home after the annexation. Many Tatars fled to other cities in Ukraine after being attacked or threatened by Russians or pro Russian aggressors. (See "Crimea facing exodus of journalists, activists and Tatars,” by Harriet Salem, The Guardian, March 24, 2014,)

Ukrainians have also fled to Russia. More than 7,000 refugees entered the Rostov region in Russia on the day of June 3, 2014 alone. (See “Record number of Ukrainian refugees go to Russia on June 3,” ITAR-TASS News Agency.)

Do Many People Gain Asylum From Ukraine?

Members of the LGBT community in Ukraine continue to be targeted. The U.S. State Department acknowledges that widespread societal intolerance and stigmatization of the gay community occurs there.

Also important to the success of an asylum claim is the evidence that the Ukrainian government does not protect the LGBT community from violence or abuse. In a a Ukrainian study reported on by The New Republic, 80% of Ukrainians polled had “negative” attitudes towards gay people. (See “The New Ukrainian Government Is Poised to Abandon the LGBT Activists Who Were on the Front Lines,” by Maxim Eristavi, March 31, 2014.) The article also mentions violent attacks against gay people that occurred in early 2014.

Additionally, claims by Crimean Tatars, who have applied for asylum in the United States over the years in smaller numbers, may increase. Since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014, violence and discrimination against Crimean Tartars has increased. (See “Crimean Tatars: At risk of persecution and harassment in the new Crimea,” Amnesty International, May 23, 2014. See also “Crimean Tatars condemn ban on rally to mark Stalin’s persecution,” by Denis Dyomkin and Alexander Winning, Reuters, May 16, 2014.)

What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical From Ukraine?

The most common type of asylum claim from Ukraine is filed by Ukrainians who have been persecuted or fear persecution on account of their membership in a particular social group, defined as homosexual.

Claims by Crimean Tatars may increase as people who fled Crimea to Ukraine proper enter the United States.

What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum Claims From Ukraine?

LGBT applicants must prove that they are members of a particular social group, defined as homosexuals. To that end, there are situations in which immigration judges or asylum officers ask personal questions to probe the veracity of the claim that the applicant is homosexual. All asylum applicants must present a credible claim — that is a claim that is detailed, consistent, and plausible. If the judge or officer does not believe you belong to the social group, he or she may not grant asylum.

Similarly, Crimean Tatars must demonstrate their identity. A judge or officer who does not believe you are a Crimean Tatar may not grant asylum. Additionally, the judge or officer must be convinced that the applicant cannot safely relocate within Ukraine.

What Can Ukrainians Do to Increase Their Chances of a Successful Asylum Claim?

If you are filing a claim based on your membership in the LBGT community, it is important to convince the judge or officer that you are, in fact, a member of that social group. Submit any evidence including membership cards for LBGT community centers. Testify in detail about any gay bars or clubs you frequent, including addresses and names and descriptions. Be sure to detail any persecution you experienced or any you fear.

Crimean Tatars should detail any persecution experienced or feared, including discriminatory laws and any harassment experienced. Submit country-conditions articles supporting your claim.

by: , J.D., LL.M.

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