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Belarus improving migration control after recent attacks, refugee crisis

Today our guest at "Simple Questions" is head of the Department of Citizenship and Migration at the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Belarus Alexei Begun.

Good evening, Mr Begun!

Good evening!

It is not a secret why we have asked you to come to the studio. Thank you for responding upon our request so quickly. Acts of terrorism in Belgium probably make Belarusians think how these events may concern them. Therefore we have addressed you with questions which concern almost every citizen of the Republic of Belarus. After the events in France and Brussels, has special attention been paid to the matter and have there been any internal changes, the so-called "crackdowns"?

The head of the Department of Citizenship and Migration at the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Belarus, Alexei Begun:
It won’t be right to say that it is a "crackdown" or that some special attention has been paid to the question. In any case, the Department perfectly sees those categories of citizens which are subject to special control. After the events in France the system has actually been changed a bit. A wide range of organizational and practical measures is undertaken by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and law enforcement agencies in order to provide control of residence of certain categories of citizens on the territory of the Republic of Belarus, divide migratory flows, reveal among the detained by law enforcement agencies refugees, persons needing international protection or illegal migrants who want to advantage from Belarus as a transit point to the European Union.

Mr Begun , concerning the events in Belgium, it is known that one of the terrorists had been noticed on the territory adjacent to Syria and later on had been extradited to Belgium. And local authorities didn't pay due attention to the fact. D o people with such biographies get in the field of vision of the Department? Are there any specific examples? How does the Department react in such situations?

Alexey Begun:
For just one simple reason I'll answer the question on behalf of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the System of State Security Agencies. You know that some citizens of Belarus have been involved in the Ukraine conflict on both sides. And each combatant of the conflict has already been informed that their actions violate the law of the Republic of Belarus and they are subject to corresponding criminal liability. Besides, we carry out a certain filtration work concerning those citizens of Belarus who go to the Republic of Turkey for a long period of time, where they hypothetically can cross the border with Syria and take part in military operations, or they can go to other countries where it is possible for them to carry out military operations on the party of the Islamic State.

It must be a great deal of work. How many people are under such control?

Alexey Begun:
You know, originally information is analyzed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and then it is compared to other information. Of course, initial groups of citizens of Belarus, with whom it will be necessary to work, are identified by analysts . And then the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Committee of State Security determine those who may be of interest to field investigation. A whole complex of preventive events and operative actions is being held in order to determine such persons.

The President of Belarus had repeatedly noted that the migration policy of the Republic of Belarus won't change; all people who try to remain in Belarus will be looked through a “magnifying glass”. Do you have data on how many citizens from the Middle East, from Syria or Iraq in particular, try to remain in Belarus?

Alexey Begun:
It is necessary to refer to the events occurring in the European Union and what the general share of the arriving persons, refugees and illegal migrants is, because Belarus generally has a tough migration policy. We accept only those who have the right for family reunion, who have close relatives, who are married to citizens of the Republic of Belarus and who have family ties in Belarus. Such people have plenty to lose and therefore they perfectly know that they have to keep within the law. They are not refugees, because the main stream of migrants that the European Union has faced are illegal migrants and people who have come to Europe in order to receive the status of a refugee. In fact, the process was uncontrollable. The migratory streams coming to Belarus are a bit different. Some 180,000 foreigners have a residence permit. Most of them are from the Russian Federation (110,000) and Ukraine (30,000). In principle these people don't need intensive control over them. They easily integrate into the society, they observe the law without any problems, work, earn money for their families and for themselves. Speaking about Brussels, there is an enclave there, several enclaves, which have captured Brussels in a half-moon, where migrants lived for years without integrating into the society and led a marginal way of life.

Is "in a half-moon" a figurative comparison?

Alexey Begun:
It even looks like that on the map. From time immemorial, no citizens of Belgium lived in these areas, where illegal immigrants were arrested and anti-terrorist operations were carried out. Steady enclaves were created where immigrants lived and settled. There are no enclaves like this in Belarus and immigrants live in families. In 2014, Belarus experimented by resettling the citizens of Syria and integrating them into the Gomel region. They received apartments. I don't think that 14 or 20 people will somehow influence the situation connected with terrorism on the territory of Belarus. About 100 petitions annually are considered from citizens of Syria, who ask us to provide the status of a refugee and secondary protection, but last year the number of petitions from foreigners grew over 1,100. It is 10% as well, and it is not a lot. Once again it means resettling the immigrants across Belarus and taking a complex of preventive actions by law enforcement and state security agencies. Labor and social protection entities pay minimum benefits so that this person integrates into the territory of the Republic of Belarus. Therefore, he is forced to work in order to support himself and his family. Sometimes it is not highly skilled work, but it is very common to see that among the petitioning persons a lot of them have graduated from educational establishments of the Republic of Belarus and have a degree in medicine. They can't just return to Syria, because their study visa is already expiring and because of the military actions going on. That is why they apply for a refugee status, get secondary protection and work on equal terms with  Belarusians. There is no need for them to attend Russian language courses, courses on integration into the society. Neither do they need considerable material investments. They are already prepared.

There have been many reports about how station squares in European capitals were literally filled up with passports. People destroyed their passports, and then it became impossible to identify them. Have you ever come across such people who had no documents, no passport and spoke little or no Russian at all?..What has to be done next?

Alexey Begun:
Residence without documents is violation of law. Such people are detained by the law enforcement agencies until they are identified. Believe me, in some case it can take over a year. Unfortunately, such situations happen when the detained gives us his name and then it turns out to be completely different. Sometimes it is only possible to identify a person by the dialect he speaks or by his fingerprints. It is a very difficult procedure. He is held in detention. He isn't granted the right to move freely. If a person comes to the Republic of Belarus on his own and applies for a refugee status, and we see that he or she is a citizen of Syria by the dialect the person speaks and his or her indirect documents, as a rule nobody detains such people. Then they are relocated into the open center of temporary residence for persons applying for a refugee status.

Belarus is a transit point for those who dream of getting to Europe. And surely enough there are people who are ready to render such services for a certain amount of money. You have certainly faced inquiries and even claims from the West that immigrants travel to Europe through Belarus.  

Alexey Begun:
First of all, there have never been any claims from the European Union’s law enforcement agencies. Belarus has set up a rather constructive cooperation and it is the staff of the agency for combating organized crime, often cooperate with Lithuanian and Latvian colleagues, which this makes it possible to reveal the whole chain of illegal migration from the starting point  and en route through the territories of the Russian Federation, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland. In order to get hold of the illegal migration organizers it is necessary to cooperate and bring them all to trial, penalties should be imposed by both sides. Belarus has always fulfilled its international obligations, combating illegal migration and there will never be such cases like in countries which had opened their borders and then said: "Oh, not us, please, go wherever you want".

From one of your interviews I got to know that due to the crisis in Europe negotiation attempts have been made with the European Union concerning the matter of locating migrants in Belarus. What are these negotiations?

Alexey Begun:
The Chief representative of the CSTO in Belarus has suggested that Belarus accepts a certain number of Syrians and provides them with education so that later on, when the situation in Syria stabilizes, they can go back and find a job in accordance with their master's degree.This matter is being comprehended by establishments which will be involved in accepting and in accommodating these Syrian students. It is done in order to understand whether it corresponds to the national interests and purposes of the migration policy of Belarus, and whether it will be possible to fulfill the international obligation by educating and sending them back to Syria.

All Belarusians watch television, the news, and see explosions, human tragedies, and to some extent they extrapolate it all to themselves. And they also see that security measures are being strengthened in many countries, they are being toughened in Russia and in the West. At first sight, there is no need for such measures  in Belarus. But what about your department? Are safety measures planned to be taken?

Alexey Begun:
I previously said that Belarus has already strengthened the measures. We have adopted the corresponding order on this question, which focused exactly on categories of persons who are to be paid special attention to.  Remember when Belarusians faced inspections at entrances to sports facilities and at some other crowded places, they were shocked and surprised. We had a sad excuse to act this way. But we have already gone through it, and now all the measures undertaken by the police and law enforcement agencies don't cause any negative reactions from those who want to attend these kinds of events. We do our job as we did it before. Therefore, nobody pays any attention to these nuances now.
Public events are under security control, the entrance to the territory of Belarus for certain categories of persons is also under special control. Those who get permission to cross the border, have to go through several stages of control.  Behind external tranquility, the law enforcement agencies work individually and pointwise with every specific person. I can't say that all of our employees stand near churches or near mosques and ask what they are you doing in the country and what religion they worship. But a secret range of actions including work done on the Internet, takes place everywhere and every day. It also brings some results. It is smooth, gradual work, which brings results in any case.

I have traveled to a lot of countries, visited Moscow lots of times. And I have recently had a conversation with a friend of mine. The friend says: "No wonder you live in "Belaya Russ" (White Russia). You won't see many people from Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Caucasus, and Tajikistan out in the streets…" These countries are completely different for the Russian Federation.  What is the main reason of Belarus not having such a problem today?

Alexey Begun:
There is a wide range of reasons. It is necessary to understand that Belarus has started to regulate the migratory regime in 1993.  A complex of normative legal acts of the Government on regulating general questions of migration appeared in 1996.  For 20 years, Belarus has been building a rather tough migration policy, which is directed at the fact that only law-abiding foreigners may cross the border. The law states what is to be done and foreigners are to obey. Law enforcement agencies are closely linked to each other in spite of the fact that last year and the year before, 40,000 migrants had been engaged in work. I wouldn't say that Belarus has no foreigners. Belarus is in the center of Europe, with more than 5 million foreigners crossing the border annually. The migration flow is rather substantial, too. In most cases the rules, the installations and the mechanisms designed to work with foreigners don't allow them to obtain illegal citizenship, get identity documents, to integrate or not to integrate into society.
All of this is diluted by a large number of Belarusians and foreigners who are of interest to us. They work, get a normal salary, they can integrate into society. If somebody is not ready to integrate into the society, he is deported
. Such decisions are carried out by internal affairs authorities.

   

 

 

 

Alexei Begun, head of the Department of Citizenship and Migration at the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Belarus