UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - Belarus

UNHCR Fundraising Reports, 1 December 1998

Basic Facts

What we do

Assist the Government in making national asylum procedures consistent with internationally recognized standards; assist the Government in integrating recognized refugees into the society of Belarus; provide assistance to the most vulnerable groups of asylum-seekers, in particular single women, children and elderly people; develop the capacity of Governmental and non-governmental organizations to manage the unorganized movement of people into the territory of Belarus.

Who we help

58 recognized refugees from Afghanistan and Ethiopia in organizing their legal integration; some 2,700 asylum-seekers from inside and outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) who are registered with UNHCR.

Our requirements

US$ 640,300

Our office

Minsk.

Our partners

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Committee on Migration (COM), Belarusian Red Cross (BRC), Caritas Minsk, United Way Belarus, Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), Golden Policy Centre, Belarusian Association of Victims of Political Oppression, Belarusian Movement of Medical Workers' Association, Teachers' Trade Union, Minsk Children and Youth Centre.

Background

Situated at the crossroads between East and West, Belarus is, above all, a country of transit migration; and this is of particular concern to the Belarusian government. Migrants heading for the West find easy passage into Belarus because of its open border with the Russian Federation. The Belarusian Ministry of Interior estimates that, at any given time, some 200,000 transit migrants are transiting through the country on their way to Lithuania and Poland in hopes of eventually reaching the West.

Since the 1996 referendum, political power has been concentrated in the hands of the President. The new parliament, appointed by the President, is not recognized as legitimate by the international community. Economic hardship hampers government efforts to establish migration control and integrate recognized refugees; it also hampers the implementation of UNHCR programmes. However, while the authorities and UNHCR's NGO partners possess a sufficient level of knowledge and awareness of international standards and international law in the fields of migration and refugees, the Government is reluctant to engage in joint activities with NGOs. Government figures indicate that there are some 36,000 potential asylum-seekers (CIS nationals) residing within the territory of Belarus. UNHCR has registered some 2,700 asylum-seekers (primarily non-CIS nationals) to date. An overwhelming majority of those registered are from Afghanistan. In addition to the numbers listed above, 131,200 people are classified by the Government as "ecological migrants" who fled the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Another 160,000 are classified as "returnees": ethnic Belarusians who have returned to the territory following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Belarus is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol; but the implementation of a Presidential Decree on Asylum of 1994 began in 1998. The "Law on Refugees", which approximates international standards, was adopted by the Supreme Soviet in February 1995 and officially entered into force in July the same year. Country-wide status determination of asylum-seekers began in June 1998. Since August 1998, 42 Afghans and 16 Ethiopians have been granted refugee status in Belarus. For the moment, the majority of asylum-seekers are left without legal status and are treated as illegal migrants.

Asylum-seekers are not being deported or imprisoned because of their lack of status in Belarus; but there are cases of harassment and fining by the police. However, asylum-seekers registered by UNHCR usually enjoy access to kindergarten, school and medical care on the same level as citizens of Belarus.

Objectives

The protection activities undertaken by UNHCR include: ensuring access to asylum procedures all over the country, and verifying that decisions on asylum claims are consistent with international standards; ascertaining that procedures are in place for referring asylum-seekers, detained by police or border guards, to the respective regional migration services; promoting refugee law and the rights of asylum-seekers among government officials, the judiciary, lawyers and the public; ensuring that recognized refugees receive some assistance in integrating into the society of Belarus; and advocating accession to the 1951 Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. By building the capacity of governmental agencies, UNHCR wants to achieve a high level of coordination and cooperation among the agencies involved in migratory issues. Specifically; the State Committee of the Border Troops has improved its exchange of information between border crossing points and its Headquarters; the Academy of the MOI provides training in international human rights law for police officers; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established bi- and multi-lateral cooperation in the field of migration; and the Ministry of Justice monitors draft migration legislation to ensure it adheres to international standards. UNHCR also works to increase national NGOs' participation in monitoring status determination procedures and in integrating recognized refugees.

Protection and Solutions

UNHCR will assist in the development of Refugee Status Determination Procedures by providing material support and information to the Government, conducting field visits to the Regional Migration Services and the border troops, encouraging the Government to establish an appeal system for rejected persons which would allow them to remain in Belarus until their final status was determined, and conducting workshops and creating a lawyers' network to strengthen the capacity of judges and lawyers to consider appeals against negative decisions. UNHCR will help integrate recognized refugees into the society by promoting an amendment of the existing registration system (propiska) and organizing language training. UNHCR will also support the authorities in renovating housing for refugees, thus meeting the requirements for propiska. In addition, voluntary repatriation of asylum-seekers will continue in cooperation with UNHCR's Regional Office in Moscow.

Women and children

Of the refugees and asylum-seekers of concern to UNHCR, 36 per cent are women and 25 per cent are children. Their primary need is for legal status; without it, they have no hope of improving their family's income or housing conditions. Some cultural difficulties are addressed through a Russian language programme for Afghan women at UNHCR's Minsk office; while in Grodno, Georgian children from Abkhazia are being taught Georgian language, geography and history to help them adapt when voluntary repatriation becomes feasible. In 1998, UNHCR funded a summer camp for Belarusian and Georgian children and provided 20 Afghan children with the opportunity to attend a summer camp outside Minsk.

Other needs

The basic needs of about 200 asylum-seekers are covered by UNHCR through cash and other assistance provided through the Belarusian Red Cross. Caritas Minsk, through its UNHCR-funded Refugee Reception Centre, conducts legal counselling for asylum-seekers and refugees. Caritas also intervenes with the police when passports and other documents are confiscated and asylum-seekers are fined for illegally residing in the country.

Coordination

UNHCR cooperates closely with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and with UNDP. Two joint UNHCR/UNDP projects underway are: the promotion of Human Rights and Refugee Law through the recently established Centre for United Nations Studies at the Belarusian State University; and the launch of a Regional Migration Centre together with the MFA.

Lessons learned

From experience gained in other countries of the former Soviet Union, UNHCR believes it is essential to foster cooperation among the government agencies that are responsible for implementing the National Migration Programme and the Law on Refugees. UNHCR also focuses on resolving the registration, or propiska, issue for recognized refugees. This Soviet registration system, still in place in Belarus, does not allow for full legalization of "outsiders". An intensive effort is required by UNHCR and all its partners to overcome bureaucratic obstacles and obtain the proper Memorandum of Understanding documents for recognized refugees.

Constraints

An economic crisis in Belarus could result in a lack of public funding for implementing the Law on Refugees and may reinforce the authorities' reluctance to speed up asylum procedures for political and/or economic reasons. The impending expiration of the President's term in office (according to the 1994 Constitution), might increase social unrest within Belarus and lead to a further deterioration of the country's relations with the international community. Lack of inter-departmental cooperation and coordination, as well as an unwillingness by the authorities to cooperate with NGOs, could scuttle joint NGO/Government programmes.

Budget US$

ActivitiesGeneral ProgrammesSpecial Programmes
Shelter/Other Infrastructures35,000
Community Services80,00010,000
Education20,00020,000
Income-Generation13,400
Legal Assistance/Protection125,00056,600
Agency Operational Support33,000
Programme Delivery Costs*209,000
Sub-TOTAL502,000100,000
Administrative Support38,300
TOTAL540,300100,000
TOTAL GP + SP640,300

* Includes costs for protection, monitoring and coordination.