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Border control and deportation operations to Belarus
26.9.12

The German magazine Junge Welt published on 30 August 2012 an article which looks at cooperation between the German police (Bundespolizei) and Belarus in border control and return of irregular migrants.[1] German cooperation is part of wider cooperation at an EU level with the former Soviet republic.

Border control at EU's eastern borders

Germany has been involved in building Belarus's border management capacity for several years. The German government confirmed, in its answer to a parliamentary request by the parliamentary group Die Linke that support in training and equipment worth €20 million (about £16 million) was provided to the Belarusian police by the German Ministry of Interior since 2008. Up to 2011, no less than 26 border control related cooperation with Belarus measures were made. In 2010, the Bundespolizei established an office in Minsk, Belarus's capital city. Cooperation is reported to have stopped after the crackdown on protesters in Belarus following the contested results of the general elections in December 2010. [2]

Cooperation with Belarus is part of Germany's wider involvement in securing EU's eastern border. In 2007 already, the Bundespolizei participated with Polish border guards in Frontex's joint operation Ariadne at the Polish-Belarusian border. In 2011, it was part, together with 23 other EU and non EU countries including Belarus, of Frontex Jupiter Joint Operation at the EU eastern land borders.

Cooperation with Belarus: contradictory moves from the EU

Belarus has a strategic location for the European Union for two main reasons.

First, it shares a border with three EU member states which are part of the Schengen area: Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. This part of EU's eastern external border is subject to particular surveillance. As explained by the International Organisation for Migration's (IOM) office in Minsk:

"Due to its geopolitical location, the Republic of Belarus remains a popular transit route for irregular migrants moving westward in search of a better life".

Several cooperation and capacity-building projects on border surveillance have been launched and funded by the European Commission as a result. Some EC funded projects are implemented by the IOM, like the SURCAP project (Strengthening the Surveillance Capacity on the Green and Blue Border between Belarus and Ukraine)[3], or by law enforcement authorities of Latvia, Poland and Belarus in the framework of the 2007-2013 European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument programme. [4]

Second, Belarus is also a major "transport gateway for the EU with Russia" [5], not least with respect to energy supply. The Russian company Gazprom announced in January 2012 that it "would increase the gas volumes to the EU via Belarus to 4bn cubic metres in 2012". [6]

Yet, contradictory signs have been sent by the EU which seems to have oscillated between realpolitik and caution in its cooperation with a country notorious for its poor human rights record. A Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was signed in 1995 although it is yet to be ratified [7]. Cooperation improved in 2006 based on what the Commission called a "constructive and open" dialogue on human rights between the EU and Lukashenko's authoritarian regime.[8] However, sanctions against many officials could not be lifted due to the lack of reforms and respect for civil liberties and fundamental rights in Belarus and have remained in place so far.

In July 2012, Member States expressed "dismay that none of the remaining political prisoners have been released as part of the recent prisoner amnesty". As sanctions will be reassessed by the end of October 2012, the Commission made clear "that the restriction of political contacts with Belarus will be subject to due consideration". [9]

International obligations

Despite the strong statements by the Commission and the awareness on the human rights situation in Belarus, cooperation has not stopped. Border control cooperation is ongoing, Belarusian border guards participate in Frontex operations in the framework of a working arrangement signed with the Agency in 2009.[10]

Cooperation with Belarus is emblematic of the ambiguous position of the EU and Frontex in their external relations. Contrary to human rights violations within Belarus which result in sanctions taken by the European Union against some of the country's officials, nothing seems to justify the suspension of border cooperation. This is particularly true of Frontex which considers that it should only make sure that itself and "the competent authorities of the partner countries afford full respect to human rights" [emphasis added]. [11]

Yet, cooperation with third countries such as Belarus may have consequences for the rights of people who are removed to this country, whether nationals or migrants who transited through Belarus (negotiations towards a readmission agreement applicable to nationals and non-nationals have started in February 2011).[12] The same logic seems to apply in the German government. In its reply to Die Linke, the government highlighted that "detention conditions in Belarus prisons and punishment camps for political prisoners were to be criticised"(die Haftbedingungen in belarussischen Gefängnissen und Straflagern "vor allem für politische Häftlinge zu bemängeln" seien).

Sources

[1] 'Abschieben nach Belarus', Matthias Monroy, 30 August 2012, Junge Welt
[2] 'Should Germany be blamed for cooperation with Belarus police?', Nadine Lashuk, 29 August 2012, Belarus Digest
[3] IOM Belarus
[4] The list of the 2007-2013 ENPI border management cooperation projects between Latvia, Poland and Belarus
[5]
European Neighbourhood & Partnership Instrument: Cross-Border Cooperation Strategy Paper 2007-2013 - Indicative Programme 2007-2010
[6] 'Gazprom to increase gas transit through Belarus', 29 January 2012, New Europe Online
[7] Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Belarus, IP/95/158, 22 February 1995
[8] Council of the European Union, EU/Belarus Human Rights Dialogue Prague, 16-17 June 2009, 11196/09 (Presse 187)
[9]
'Statement by the Spokesperson of High Representative Catherine Ashton following the meeting of the Political and Security Committee on Belarus', A366/12, 10 August 2012
[10] Working Arrangement on the establishment of Operational Cooperation between the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex) and the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus, 21 October 2009
[11]
Frontex's website on cooperation with third countries
[12] 'Adoption of a Council Decision authorising the Commission to open negotiations for the conclusion of an agreement between the European Union and Belarus on the facilitation of the issuance of short-stay visas', 6453/11, 18 February 2011



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