On April 2, 2015 press briefing with Jean Yves Bouchardy, UNHCR Representative in the Republic of Belarus, and Aliaksandr Tatura, Deputy Head of the Department on Citizenship and Migration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus, took place at the Faculty of International Relation of Belarusian State University. Representatives of the inforamtion agency Belta, newspapers "SB-Belarus Segodnia", “Minskaya prauda”, “Na strazhe”, “Nastaunitskaya Gazeta”, as well as the BSU Newspaper “Universitet” and journalists of the TV Channel CTV were present at the event. The press-briefing was organized by the International Non-Governmental Association for Scientific Research, Information and Educational Programmes “Evolutio”.
In his introductory speech Victor Shadurski, Dean of the Faculty of International Relations, Chairman of the INA “Evolutio” Observation Board, thanked journalists for participation, he also noted that refugee and migration issues are important for our country as never before.
Jean Yves Bouchardy was the first to be given floor. He also thanked all the present journalists for their interest shown towards the refugee cause. Mr. Bouchardy noted that the press briefing’s goal is to provide an overview of the current situation related to asylum-seekers and refugees who arrive in the Republic of Belarus.
He told that due to the conflicts and humanitarian crises in Ukraine and Syria, the number of asylum-seekers and forced migrants has dramatically increased and the issue gained particular importance. In this connection, UNHCR counts on mass media to help to cover the actual state of affairs, provide accurate information and promote public tolerance to those who had to flee their homes and found a safe refuge in Belarus.
Top three countries of origin of asylum-seekers in the Republic of Belarus are Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan. UNHCR is actively involved in providing assistance to these people. In February of this year, UNHCR in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs welcomed 14 Syrian refugees arriving from Lebanon. Six adults and 8 children were met at the airport and transported to Gomel where they are now residing in the Temporary Accommodation Centre. Once the paperwork is finalized, they will be able to move in the housing that was preliminary prepared for them. The resettlement of the families was organized within the UNHCR and MIA joint project “Provision of Protection to the Most Vulnerable Asylum-Seekers in the Republic of Belarus Suffering in the Result of Humanitarian Crisis”. This was a unique event when Belarus acted as a resettlement country for the first time. There are also Syrian asylum-seekers who arrived in Belarus by themselves. A lot of them are students who came here to study and lost contacts with their relatives after the conflict in Syria had started.
Ukrainian nationals constitute the primary group of asylum-seekers in the Republic of Belarus. As of 23 March 2015, 1,178,000 people were internally displaced, which means that they left their homes but remained in Ukraine; almost 800,000 people sought refuge in neighboring countries, among which over 300,000 people applied for asylum and about 484,000 people sought other forms of stay in these countries.
Among the countries neighboring Ukraine, the Republic of Belarus occupies the second place, after the Russian Federation, in the number of Ukrainian nationals arriving in the country (according to the proportion: the number of forced migrants to the country’s population).
In cooperation with the MIA and partner NGOs, UNHCR seeks to assess the situation and provide comprehensive assistance to the most vulnerable groups.
At the end of last year, UNHCR conducted a survey of Ukrainian nationals arriving in the Republic of Belarus. The survey revealed the following major problems: difficulties with employment and housing, the need to pay for medical care having extremely limited family budgets, difficulties with receiving pensions. As a follow up activity, we are now conducting focus groups discussions with Ukrainian nationals throughout Belarus.
At the end of his speech, Jean Yves Bouchardy highlighted the importance of cooperation between UNHCR and the government of the Republic of Belarus and acknowledged the good work of the colleagues from the Department on Citizenship and Migration of the MIA of the Republic of Belarus. Then he gave the floor to A. Tatura, Deputy Head of the Department on Citizenship and Migration of Belarus.
A. Tatura in his speech noted that problems of the forced migration in the contemporary world are relevant for many countries as well as for the Republic of Belarus. Despite the fact that the majority of migrants consider our country as the transit territory on the way to Western Europe, since 1997 when legislation on the forced migration was launched in the Republic of Belarus over 5 thousand asylum applications have been submitted in the Republic of Belarus till the present time. In total, during the stated period 904 foreigners from 18 countries were officially recognized as refugees, complementary protection was provided to 567 foreigners from 8 countries.
He focused on statistics. Within the period between 2004 and 2012 annually from 60 to 160 foreigners submitted their asylum applications to corresponding governmental bodies. During this period the majority of asylum applications was received from the citizens of Afghanistan which constituted up to 70% of all the applied.
In 2013 natives of Syria became the most numerous group from the total share — over 30% out of 208 foreigners turned for refugee status and complementary protection within the year.
In 2014 in connection with the events in Ukraine the number of submitted applications increased four times compared to the last year figures. 867 foreign citizens turned to competitive bodies for the international protection, the share of Ukraine citizens reached 76.5% (663 persons) from the total number of applications, citizens of Syria — 11% (95 persons), citizens of Afghanistan — 3.9% (34 persons).
During the current year the forced migrants’ flow hasn’t diminished. In January—March 294 foreigners turned for the protection, citizens of Ukraine amounted to 73.1%, 17.7% — citizens of Syria.
A. Tatura also focused on the situation with citizens of Ukraine. Internal affairs bodies conduct determination procedure of cases submitted by citizens of Ukraine. At this, the term of asylum applications’ consideration is shortened to 3 months. According to the results of the Ukrainian citizens applications consideration: refugee status wasn’t provided; complementary protection was given to 438 citizens of Ukraine (came from Donetsk and Lugansk regions); 60 citizens of Ukraine were denied of the international protection (came from other regions); 33 citizens of Ukraine stopped the determination procedure (according to the personal initiative).
In order to accommodate foreigners applying for refugee status or complementary protection and not having the possibility to settle themselves by their own, Temporary Accommodation Centers are functioning: in Vitebsk (estimated for placement of 30 persons, administered by the Ministry of Internal Affairs); in Gomel (estimated for placement of 26 persons, administered by Gomel Oblast Executive Committee); in Brest (estimated for placement of 26 persons, administered by the State Border Committee). The total capacity of the temporary accommodation centers amounts to 68 persons.
Other measures to assist citizens of Ukraine are being undertaken. Since September 1, 2014 the President’s Decree from August 30, 2014 #2 420 on the stay of citizens of Ukraine in the Republic of Belarus (Decree) aimed at the provision of assistance to citizens of Ukraine having arrived from Donetsk and Lugansk regions and taking into account the interests of the Republic of Belarus entered into force. In particular, the Decree’s adoption allowed to take decisions on the settlement of Ukraine citizens’ legal status in accordance with the Belarusian legislation (in case of absence of the necessary documents); to stimulate Belarusian employers to attract citizens of Ukraine into the labour activities; etc.
For information A. Tatura also provided other statistics data. In order to register themselves in 2014, over 80 thousand citizens of Ukraine turned to internal bodies, 8.5 thousand citizens of Donetsk and Lugansk regions used the right to be released from provision of the documents necessary to adopt decisions on temporary or permanent residence in the Republic of Belarus. The majority of Ukraine citizens of this category came to Gomel, Mogilev, Minsk oblast as well as in Minsk.
Then mass media representatives used their opportunity to ask interesting questions.
Diana Shibkovskaya, representative of the Information Agency BelTA, clarified whether it is planned to increase the number of places in the Temporary Accommodation Centers due to the increased flow of forced migrants. A. Tatura noted that within the framework of the abovementioned joint project between UNHCR and MIA, apartments were additionally purchased in order to accommodate Syrians who came in Belarus in February. However, that is all. There are no prerequisites to increase the number of places as it provides for additional financial burden on the budget allocated for exploitation, etc.
Diana Shibkovskaya also was interested whether there is currently a tendency of repatriation of asylum seekers back home, whether the statistics is being observed. A. Tatura noted that such cases are observed, however, such cases are individual and there is no need to speak in general about such kind of tendency.
Olga Pasiak, journalist of the newspaper “SB-Belarus Segodnya”, was interested whether the situation with forced migrants from Russia which was recently told about by representatives of the Belarusian Red Cross Society is noted. A. Tatura explained that due to the fact that there is no border between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus within the Union State, the big flow of forced migrants arrive on the territory of our country across Russia, which in its turn has common borders with countries — conflict hot spots. Here comes the impression that the big influx of migrants to Belarus caomes from Russia.
Sergey Shafalovich, Head of the Department of Inter-University Communications of BSU media Center, Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper “Universitet”, was interested why the Syrians, in particular, those 14 whom mentioned beforehand Jean Yves Bouchardy, came exactly in Belarus and asking for refuge here. A. Tatura explained that the main criteria is the knowledge of Russian by one of the family members and common family ties with citizens of the Republic of Belarus.
Elena Kazakova, journalist of the newspaper “Na strazhe”, in her turn interested whether the crime situation is worsened in connection with the citizens of Ukraine’ arrival on the territory of the Republic of Belarus. A. Tatura noted that there is no need to speak about the worsened crime situation as the wide range of preventive activities is conducted in mass media, etc.
Veronika Trynkina, journalist of the newspaper “SB-Belarus Segodnya”, posed a question on the employment of Ukraine citizens, she interested what vacancies they mainly occupy. A. Tatura told that citizens of Ukraine who have the international protection of the territory of the Republic of Belarus are employed equally with citizens of the Republic of Belarus. The separate category are citizens of Ukraine who have no international protection. In such case, they are entitled to be employed according to the particular procedure as foreign citizens, i.e. that priority will be given to citizens of the Republic of Belarus in case the vacancy is open. There are regions which have problems with labour resources. There is a distribution process of the citizens of Ukraine wishing to get employed in such regions. Mainly, such working professions as machine operators, shepherds, however, there are also highly qualified personnel who managed to get employment in medical and educational institutions.
At the end of the event V. Shadurski posed a question to the representative of the international organization, whether the system created in the Republic of Belarus stands the increased number of migrants, what may happen in the future: decline or escalation. Jean Yves Bouchardy told that the tendency towards the increase of the migrants’ flow, unfortunately, remains and that’s why only time will show how the situation will develop. A. Tatura added that despite the four times increase in the number of submitted applications on protection it is possible to manage this situation.
During the press-briefing a number of other questions was posed to J. Y. Bouchardy and A. Tatura. V. Shadurski expressed hope that the situation in Ukraine will improve. He also wished to all the guests to be more tolerant and less conflict both in the international affairs and interpersonal relations and everyday life.