Expulsion and lack of state aid: what may Belarusians fleeing from the regime to Ukraine face

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Ukraine’s migration policy is unfriendly towards Belarusians who are forced to flee from the Lukashenko regime. Instead of authorities, Belarusians receive assistance from non-governmental organizations in Ukraine. Moreover, staying in Ukraine is dangerous for refugees as the country continues to cooperate with Belarusian security forces and expel people.

Human rights activists made a corresponding statement during a press conference in Kyiv on July 21.

According to Coordinator of the Free Belarus Center Palina Brodik, almost a year has passed since the protests began in Belarus and Belarusians started to leave, in particular for Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania. However, among these countries, Ukraine has taken virtually no action to facilitate the immigration of Belarusian refugees. And although the period of stay for Belarusians in Ukraine has been increased from 90 to 180 days, the total number of days per year has not changed and such actions are not enough.

As Brodik stated, it is difficult for Belarusians to legalize their stay in Ukraine, find a job, register their place of residence. In addition, being here is dangerous for refugees because Ukraine continues to expel people. According to the State Migration Service data, 16 Belarusian citizens have been deported from Ukraine either to their homeland or to third countries in 2021, the human rights activist said.

Despite the fact that the death penalty and inhuman torture are still practiced in Belarus, Ukraine sends people back and cooperates with Belarusian security forces,” Brodik noted.

Palina Brodik

At the same time, according to her, the state does not grant support to refugees in Ukraine, so these functions are performed by non-governmental organizations: “Primarily, Belarusians can rely on the help of Belarusians in Ukraine. Ukrainian human rights organizations also provide assistance, but one cannot rely on the state.”

In particular, the Free Belarus Center provides Belarusians in Ukraine with legal, psychological assistance, temporary housing, helps with personal effects, food, and covers emergency medical expenses. Palina Brodik noted that about 700 Belarusians had sought organization’s help over the period of its operation.

Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv also helps Belarusian refugees. Since July 2020, the House has granted support to more than 300 Belarusian human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society activists.

This is urgent help granted during the move to Ukraine, as well as through an internship program. First of all, we create conditions allowing a person to stay in the profession, continue social activity, be in a relatively safe environment. Many also receive legal advice, psychological, and medical assistance,” said Serhiy Burov, Director of the Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv.

He believes that Ukraine has complicated migration procedure in terms of human protection. Belarusians usually do not apply to migration authorities for the refugee status or the status of a person in need of additional protection due to a threat to their life, security, or liberty in their country. First, Burov explains, because such a status is granted when one cannot return home, while Belarusians actually consider their stay in Ukraine temporary.

Second, applying for such a status, unfortunately, does not improve their situation and, on the contrary, further restricts the exercise of their rights,” the expert added.

Burov says that the problem could be solved by the procedure of granting the status of “temporary protection”, which is provided by law. A person with this status cannot be deported or forcibly returned to a country where his or her life or liberty is in danger. This status would provide for a temporary stay in Ukraine exceeding 90 or 180 days.

However, as Coordinator of the project “Without Borders” Maksym Butkevych said, the state does not use this procedure in practice because the migration service does not see the need for it.

Maksym Butkevych

Also, according to the human rights activist, the authorities, in particular the State Migration Service, abuse the concept of “protection of national security”, do not specify it, and may expel forced migrants and refugees from the country due to the vagueness of the concept’s meaning. On these grounds, for example, the Security Service of Ukraine [SSU] is trying to expel Belarusian activist Oleksiy Bolenkov [Belarusian: Alyaksei Balyankou] who has been living in Ukraine for seven years and who took part in Euromaidan protests in 2013-2014. In April this year, the SSU officers came to his apartment and wanted to take him to the border, but the activist filed a lawsuit against the decision.

The SSU considers Bolenkov dangerous for Ukrainian sovereignty, in particular, because of posts on Volyer far-right anonymous Telegram channel which has been repeatedly criticized by human rights organizations for profiling activists and calling for violence.

According to the data the SSU refers to, Bolenkov is an anarchist and was allegedly involved in attacks on right-wing activists and veterans in Ukraine, although SSU officials themselves do not provide any facts. The activist is also accused of participating in rallies near the embassies of Belarus and Turkey. At the same time, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Bolenkov is not a suspect in any criminal proceedings in Ukraine.

In fact, the reason for this expulsion is that the authorities do not like political views and actions that are perfectly legal, for example, participation in peaceful assemblies. Anarchist views are not prohibited by law, also,” Butkevych said.

The activist himself claims that the evidence against him was collected in haste and is unfounded. He said that the SSU began persecuting him when Bolenkov started to criticize Arsen Avakov and expose Serhiy Korotkykh who was linked to the Belarusian KGB.

Yesterday, July 20, a court in Kyiv considered Bolenkov’s complaint against the SSU’s decision to expel him from Ukraine. The hearing will continue today at 17:00, and the final decision on expulsion will be announced.

Oleksiy Bolenkov

Finally, human rights activists called on the Ukrainian authorities to adhere to a transparent and clear migration policy friendly to Belarusian refugees and activists.

We call on Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to immediately stop persecuting Oleksiy Bolenkov and other Belarusian activists, as well as to stop cooperating with Belarusian security forces and the Lukashenko regime,” said Liudmyla Yankina, project coordinator at the ZMINA Human Rights Centre.

Supported by the Democracy Grants Program of the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Government.