Belarus to step up assistance to migrants with voluntary return to home countries

Belarus' State Border Committee, the Interior Ministry and the International Organization for Migration Office in Belarus signed a protocol of intent to cooperate in the voluntary return of foreign nationals to home countries or to permanent-residence countries.

The protocol defines a mechanism of cooperation in voluntary orderly and humane return based on the decision of the migrant himself. The document draws on the relevant international experience. The protocol was signed by Deputy Chairman of the State Border Committee Igor Pechen, Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Melchenko and the Chief of the International Organization for Migration Office in Belarus Zeynal Hajiyev.

The border authorities support and welcome this program. More than 250 violators of the state border have been detained this year. We understand that some of them could have had a different fate if this program were in operation, Igor Pechen said. For his part, Nikolai Melchenko noted that thanks to donor assistance from the European Union and the IOM, a certain algorithm has been built for Belarus and will be used by its agencies in respect of migrants who have decided to return home voluntarily. Now we will not have to use the funds from the national budget, he noted.

Voluntary return with the support of the International Organization for Migration will include administrative, logistical and financial assistance to migrants. Some of them will also get help with reintegration upon their return to their homeland. The program involves cooperation and interaction between migrants themselves, the government bodies involved, civil society, and the governments of the destination countries.

The protocol clearly delineates the powers. We discussed it for a long time and found an acceptable option that fully meets international standards, our requirements [International Organization for Migration]. We help people who find themselves in very difficult life situations. They need to make decisions, and they need to be made on the basis of clear information. This is why they need to be informed about different possibilities, said Zeynal Hajiyev.

The signing of the protocol gave a start to the information campaign on the voluntary return program for migrants. It is expected to raise awareness of the new opportunities. For example, in January-September of this year, more than 780 people were deported from Belarus, and more than 1050 were expelled. Many of them could have avoided deportation and could have returned to their homeland legally, if they were equipped with the necessary information.

Voluntary return is an integral part of the regulation of migration processes. A similar program was already implemented in Belarus from 2007 till 2011. Then assistance was provided to more than 140 foreigners, of which 35 took advantage of the assistance on the initiative of the internal affairs bodies. This helped save money from the national budget to cover expenses associated with expulsion and deportation. This year fifteen migrants have already taken advantage of the opportunities provided within the framework of the EU project, with the help of IOM.

In order to get help with voluntary return to a home country, a foreign national must turn to the State Border Committee, police or the IOM office. The IOM will pay for his ticket home and assist in any other way, if necessary, provided that a migrant is a law-abiding person who found himself in a difficult situation. Furthermore, the IOM regularly receives the Belarusians who wish to return home the same way. Similar requests are processed almost every week.

The protocol of intent on cooperation is based on the EU-funded project of international assistance Helping Belarus address the phenomenon of increasing numbers of irregular migrants. The project has already been running for a year and a half and will continue for another two and an half years. The project is designed to finance return of as many as 300 migrants to home countries from Belarus. The project provides for the construction of two temporary migrant accommodation centers. One of them will be at the Polotsk border section for 40 people and the other will be set up in the vicinity of Minsk National Airport for 72 people. The construction of the first center is to begin in April 2020 and finish by the end of the year. As for the second center, the location is currently under discussion. The final decision is expected at the the end of 2019.

The project also aims to amend the legislation related to the legal status of foreign citizens and stateless persons. It is planned that the parliament will consider the amendments to the relevant law during the autumn session. Another goal of the project is to ensure that Belarus and the EU will fulfill their obligations under the future readmission agreement between Belarus and the EU.

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