Have European countries extradited Ukrainian refugees of fighting age?

“They started sending extradition notices to the Ukrainians

Have European countries extradited Ukrainian refugees of fighting age?

“They started sending extradition notices to the Ukrainians. » Since the beginning of September, messages published on social networks suggest that Ukrainian refugees of military age are about to be sent back to Ukraine to be handed over to justice. According to the martial law in force in Ukraine since the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, men aged 18 to 60 are eligible for mobilization and do not have the right to leave the territory. These publications, widely shared in pro-Russian circles, are however false.

For several days, a photo of a letter had been circulating on social networks. A Ukrainian living in Ireland has reportedly been notified by the Irish authorities of an extradition request from his country due to “failure to comply with the legal obligation to serve in the army”. On Tuesday September 12, the Irish Ministry of Justice had to deny having sent extradition notices to Ukrainian refugees.

The fake letter, rather convincing, cites in particular the European Convention on Extradition of 1957, which applies to the forty-six states of the Council of Europe (including Ukraine and Ireland), to justify the procedure of extradition. 'extradition. Except that in its article 4, the convention specifies that “extradition for military offenses which do not constitute ordinary law offenses is excluded”. In other words, Ukraine cannot request the extradition of a man simply because he fled his military obligations.

A few days earlier, a video, presented as the testimony of a Ukrainian subject to an extradition request, had also been massively shared on pro-Russian networks (including the Telegram channel of Russian regime propagandist Vladimir Soloviev, which has 1.3 million subscribers). A young man explains in Russian that he had received a document informing him that Ukraine had requested his extradition to the European country which he claims to have entered legally. The document that he quickly presents on the screen is illegible and what it contains is unverifiable. The only clue that can be distinguished is the logo of the Spanish police headquarters. When contacted, neither the Spanish Ministry of Justice nor the Ukrainian Embassy in Spain responded to our questions.

Still in this vein, several pro-Russian publications have suggested in recent months that Poland had handed over Ukrainian refugees to kyiv who hoped to escape mobilization. It was in fact diverted information from an article in the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita according to which Warsaw had extradited Ukrainians involved in the illicit trafficking of migrants.

Ukraine lacks soldiers

These widely shared rumors echo a very real problem for Ukraine: the lack of soldiers in the army that the authorities deplore. At the start of the Russian invasion, it benefited from the influx of volunteers wishing to fight, but after nineteen months of conflict, losses forced it to resort more to conscription.

Since August, several Ukrainian officials have expressed their desire to bring back Ukrainians who have evaded their military obligations. According to the spokesperson for the border guards quoted in early September by Agence France-Presse (AFP), 13,600 people who tried to leave the country illegally were arrested and 6,100 others were caught with falsified documents since the start of the war. However, the country does not communicate overall statistics on potential fighters who have fled the country.

In August, Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities announced the arrest in kyiv of an armed forces official accused of helping men evade military enlistment. For $10,000 (€9,100), men wishing to escape military service received “fictitious documents attesting to their unfitness for military service.”

However, the use of false documents is a criminal offense, and not a military one, which could give rise to an extradition request from Ukraine. An advisor to the Ukrainian presidency, Mykhailo Podoliak, however, admitted on September 15 that “it is unlikely that European countries will accept extraditions,” recognizing a complex and “impossible” procedure to apply en masse. Ukraine would first have to gather evidence and initiate legal proceedings before it could make an extradition request for each of the defendants. “Today I do not think it is possible to resolve the problem of the return of young men who left for one reason or another on the basis of fictitious certificates abroad,” he conceded , while assuring that fraudsters will face justice if they decide to return to Ukraine “when the war ends”.

No extradition from France to Ukraine

“Extradition is a request from one government to another government, but the decision whether or not to extradite a person rests only with the state receiving the request. He has the freedom to decide whether the facts justify extradition and can call into question the assessment of the facts of the State making the request,” explains Didier Rebut, director of the Paris Institute of Criminology and Criminal Law. . The use of a false document in order to avoid serving in the army could then be considered as an extension of a military offense, calling into question the admissibility of such an extradition request.

Since the start of the Russian invasion, "no handover has taken place from France to Ukraine", confirms the French Ministry of Justice, even if "bilateral cooperation between France and Ukraine continues despite the conflict, in matters of investigation as well as in extradition matters”. In March, the extradition request for billionaire Kostiantyn Jevago, made by Ukraine, was rejected by French justice, on the grounds that the fundamental freedoms the suspect must benefit from cannot be sufficiently guaranteed in a country at war. .

The temporary protection granted to Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country for the European Union (EU) does not make a distinction between gender or conscription status, the European Commission confirms to Le Monde. It can therefore apply to men of fighting age in their country. Since March 2022, Ukrainians fleeing the war started by Russia have benefited from a status allowing them to stay, work and access aid in the European Union. Before this, Ukrainian nationals could only stay 90 days without a visa in the EU. The European Commission proposed, on Tuesday September 19, to extend for another year, until March 2025, the protection granted to Ukrainian refugees. According to the UN refugee agency, 5.8 million of them benefit from this protection in the EU.