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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgians Flocking to Poland to Get Asylum

Poland saw an unprecedented flood of Georgian citizens apply for asylum over the past four months, officials said Monday.

More than 3,000 Georgians applied for Polish asylum from May to August, a nearly 10-fold increase from the past eight years, according to the Warsaw-based Office for Foreigners, which handles refugees.

"This number of Georgian refugees is unprecedented. However, the Polish side cannot give a clear answer as to why it has risen so rapidly in such a short time span," Office for Foreigners spokeswoman Ewa Pechota told The Moscow Times.

A senior Georgian official pooh-poohed the suggestion that Georgia might be facing a wave of emigration, saying most of the Georgians flocking to Poland were probably living outside Georgia already and were hoping to settle in the European Union.

"Crucially, Poland has been the country pushing for visa-free entry to the EU for Georgian citizens," said Shota Utiashvili, head of the analytical department at the Georgian Interior Ministry. "I reckon that Georgians living in Ukraine and Belarus, which both border the EU, picked up on this and started applying for asylum in Poland."

An overwhelming majority of the Georgian applicants entered Poland from Belarus, Polish officials said. As of August, Georgians have dwarfed the community of Chechens in Poland.

The pro-Western administration of President Mikheil Saakashvili has capped a deal with the European Commission on easing visa rules for Georgian citizens traveling to Schengen countries. The deal, finalized in August, still needs to secure the approval of the 27 EU members.

According to the Polish Office for Foreigners, 90 percent of the recent Georgian applicants for asylum in Poland are unskilled ethnic Kurds aged 18 to 65.

Meanwhile, least one person is seeking sanctuary in Georgia's separatist region of South Ossetia, RIA-Novosti reported. Opposition journalist Levan Gudadze applied for political asylum in South Ossetia recently, accusing the Georgian government of shutting down the three news portals he was running, the report said.

Utiashvili did not comment on Gudadze's case.