EU: New detention centres part of €7 million EU migration project in Belarus

An EU-funded project in Belarus is providing €7 million to establish "a fully-fledged irregular migration management strategy," including the construction of a series of 'Migrants' Accommodation Centres' throughout a country perhaps best-known for being Europe's last remaining dictatorship.

The project was highlighted in a report in German newspaper Taz in January, [1] although the Commission's plan was published in July 2016 and sets out in significant detail what is proposed, with four main objectives:

"1. To contribute to the strengthening and respect of human rights and fundamental freedom aspects in the area of irregular migration
2. To contribute to the convergence of Belarus' normative framework towards the EU's corresponding framework
3. To contribute to the facilitation of operational cooperation between the EU, EU Agencies, EU Member States and Belarus
4. To help increase security levels in the region and on the external EU border"

See: European Commission, Commission Implementing Decision of 20.7.16 on the Annual Action Programme in favour of the Republic of Belarus to be financed from the general budget of the European Union (C(2016) 4861 final, pdf)

And the section containing the proposals in detail: Annex II: Action Document for Helping Belarus Address the Phenomenon of Increasing Numbers of Irregular Migrants (pdf)

Activities funded by the EU will "include training on the management of migrants' accommodation centres in line with best international and EU standards," and:

"the construction and/or renovation of several temporary migrants' accommodation centres, administered by the Ministry of Interior and the State Border Committee, based on best practices of EU Member States and taking into account the needs of persons with special needs and vulnerable persons."

According to the Commission document, the exact number of new 'Migrant Accommodation Centres' to be constructed will be set out in a Delegation Agreement with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which will implement the project on the EU's behalf.

In an email to Statewatch, the IOM's office in Minsk said they are "not in position to disclose" whether a Delegation Agreement has yet been signed. The European Commission has not responded to requests for information.

11 potential sites in Belarus for new or "upgraded" facilities with a capacity of 30 to 50 people are identified, and the document says that:

"All centres will have closed and open-type facilities as well as multi-purpose women-only spaces for refugee women, girls, minors and families that provide for access to a range of targeted services including psychological first aid, trauma counselling, and health care. All centres will be made safe, accessible for representatives of organisations such as IOM, UNHCR and the Belarus Red Cross, winterized, will have family and sex-segregated partitions ensuring privacy as well as with wash facilities separating men and women."

One of the risks identified in the document is that: "The government will not agree to implement all parts of the reforms proposed in this Action," because: "Belarus perceives the question of irregular migration from a purely security perspective."

The authoritarian nature of Belarus' government is barely mentioned by the Commission, which merely refers to "specific political circumstances" and the country's "robust administrative system and management".

It is noted that there are 117 detention spaces in centres on the Belarussian borders, while: "In 2015, about 1600 irregular migrants facing deportation were in custody in 103 MoI-run facilities, an increase of 39% compared with the figure in 2014."

The project - entitled 'Helping Belarus Address the Phenomenon of Increasing Numbers of Irregular Migrants' - is funded by the European Neighbourhood Instrument and comes at a time when increasing numbers of people have been passing through Belarus and attempting to enter the EU at the country's border with Poland.

There were protests at the border last August, mainly by Chechens angry about the Polish authorities refusing them entry. [2] In response, the Polish interior minister reportedly said:

"We will not succumb to the pressure of those who want to start a migration crisis. Our politics is totally different. The Polish border is sealed. Unlike in previous years, there is no war in Chechnya… In my opinion, this is an attempt to create a new migration route, [and] an inflow of Muslims into Europe." [3]

Last year Politico also reported on the concerns of German officials over people entering Poland and then continuing their journey to Germany:

"official statistics, and local law enforcement, suggest [that after the closure of the 'Balkan Route'] Merkel now needs to look east, to the border with Poland, where the number of illegal crossings has skyrocketed." [4]

The Commission document warns that: "The most important EU countries of destination named by migrants to the authorities are Germany, Sweden, and the UK.

Meanwhile, the fact that irregular border-crossings have grown may have some connection with the fact that significant numbers of people have been denied entry by Polish officials:

"…in the first six months of 2016, Polish Border Guard issued 42,300 rejections of entry (more than half to Russian citizens), with the lack of valid entry documents cited as the main reason. This number stood at 17,712 in the same period of 2015. According to numerous migrants' accounts, one person may undertake up to 45 attempts to have his or her application accepted." [5]

As the Commission's document puts it, there are:

"increased irregular migration flows through Belarus originating from the conflict in Ukraine, the civil war in Syria and the economic crisis in Russia, which force many third-country nationals to look for new (job) opportunities in the EU."

Elsewhere it notes that Syrians make up a large number of the "irregular migrants" in Belarus, and that Russian citizens in the country are often from Chechnya and Dagestan. Other reports say that many people who have been turned away from the Polish border are fleeing a political crackdown in Tajikistan. [6]

Concerns over the "vulnerability" of Belarussian borders are highlighted by the Commission:

"Mainly the entire border with Lithuania (in particular the territory around official check points) and, in a new development, the most south western part of Belarus - the Tomashovka land strip at the frontier with Ukraine - are currently used by irregular migrants to cross into EU territory… the Ukraine-Poland border [is] particularly vulnerable for illegal crossings into EU territory. The Belarus-Latvia frontier is not often used by irregular migrants, mainly for reasons linked to its relative difficult accessibility (terrain)."

The anticipated results of the project, foreseen to finish in 2020, are:

"1. A comprehensive legal and institutional policy framework programme on managing irregular migration has been developed and implemented
2. An Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programme for irregular migrants is designed and implemented
3. Several Migrants Accommodation Centres are built or refurbished and integrated in the irregular migration management system
4. The legal, institutional and policy framework on irregular migration is gender-streamlined"

Cooperation with Belarus on border control (alongside Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) is also ongoing in the 'Eastern Partnership Integrated Border Management Capacity Building Project', coordinated by Frontex, the IOM and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development.

Belarus also participates in Frontex's Eastern Partnership Risk Analysis Network (EaP-RAN), which evolved from the Eastern European Borders Risk Analysis Network (EB-RAN) and held its first meeting in March 2016.

[1] Christian Jakob, Pakt mit Weißrusslands Diktator, Taz, 12 January 2017
[2] Dozens Of Chechens At Polish Border, Hoping For Asylum, Radio Free Europe, 30 August 2016
[3] Elena Kachanovich-Shlyk, Slightly open borders of Poland, Political Critique, 2 November 2016
[4] Janosch Delcker, Germany’s new problem border: Poland, Politico, 24 August 2016
[5] Elena Kachanovich-Shlyk, Slightly open borders of Poland, Political Critique, 2 November 2016
[6] Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, Tajikistan: Asylum Seekers Stranded in Limbo on Polish Border, Reliefweb, 17 January 2017 and Poland pushes back thousands of refugees, many fleeing crackdown in Tajikistan, Statewatch News Online, 15 August 2016


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