Migration centres, relations with Sudan, Paliessie cruises, beaver sausages – Belarus state press digest

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The EU provides €7m to finance the construction of migrant facilities in Belarus to combat irregular migration. Aliaksandr Lukashenka visits Sudan with a delegation of Belarusian officials to discuss bilateral economic potential.

Belarus launches a 550-km-long cruise route in the Paliessie region. In 2016, Minsk breaks its record for housing sales. Belarusian food industries plan to produce sausages and canned meat from beavers.

This and more in the new edition of the Belarus state press digest.

Politics and foreign policy

The EU provides €7m to finance the construction of migrant facilities in Belarus. The project aims to combat irregular migration to the EU via Belarus, informs Belarus Segodnia. It will finance the modernisation of migrant centres, production of informational materials, training for specialists, and other related expenses.

The centres will only handle migrants detained on the territory of Belarus, as well as those who entered the EU through Belarus under the readmission agreement. The agreement does not impose obligations on Belarus to take in refugees from Europe. The project will allow Belarus and the EU to move forward in visa facilitation procedures.

Lukashenka: Sudan has become one of Belarus's most important partners on the African continent. On 16-18 January Aliaksandr Lukashenka visited Sudan with a delegation of Belarusian officials, reports Zviazda. The Belarusian leader held talks with the President of Sudan Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir and addressed the Sudanese parliament about Belarus's place in the modern world, its foreign policy, and perspectives for the countries’ bilateral relations.

Business circles from the two countries discussed partnership prospects at a Belarusian-Sudanese business forum. The Belarusian delegation included more than 30 representatives of large and medium-size industries, including MTZ, MAZ, BelAZ, Amkador, Homsielmaš, Belšyna, Dziaržynski, and others. Belarus and Sudan also discussed the possibility of Belarusian companies participating in exploration and development of Sudanese oil and gas fields. The total economic impact of the contracts came to more than $40 million, and Minsk expects it to multiply within a year.

Tourism

Tourism companies need to develop their services more actively after introduction of the visa-free regime. Belarus Segodnya criticises the Belarusian hospitality industry for its inability to take advantage of new opportunities. When asked about the potential impact of the visa-free regime on their business, a number of large tourism companies responded that they have no idea how to take advantage of the situation.

For years, the tourism industry has raised concerns that visas are an obstacle to inbound tourism in Belarus. But now that the state has liberalised its visa policy, companies continue to complain about various issues: tourists should be able to enter the country not only via the airport, they should have the right to stay more than 5 days, and so on. The newspaper writes that these companies should stop relying on the state and use the available chances to develop and promote their products independently.

Belarus launches a cruise ship in the Paliessie region. The first cruise route 'Pearls of Paliessie', with the motor ship Belaja Ruś, will begin 29 April 2017, writes Holas Radzimy. The tour is designed for eight days and will run via the Buh River, the Dniepar-Buh Canal and the Prypiać river, 550 kilometres in total. The ship will sail mostly at night.

During the day, tourists will be able to go ashore and explore the sights of the cities of Brest, Kobryn, Pinsk, Turaŭ, Mazyr, as well as some famous villages. Belaja Ruś is the first and only cruise ship to be built in Belarus. It will resemble a three-story hotel with 16 cabins, restaurants, shops and a pool. The price for the cruise will be all inclusive and can host nearly 40 passengers.

Social

Minsk breaks its housing sale record. In 2016 more than 15,000 apartments were sold in Minsk: 14% more than in 2015. This became an all-time record for the Belarusian capital. Due to the economic recession, housing prices fell in USD, while market supply remains high. Belarusians are most likely to buy apartments in buildings built in the 1970's to late 1990's, which dominate on the market. One third of buyers sought the cheapest apartments, such as one-bedroom flats for $30,000.

In contrast to Minsk, apartment sales in the regions have fallen for the third consecutive year. Not including Minsk, 31,426 flats were sold in Belarus in 2016; this is 13% less than in 2015 (36,149 flats). Compared to 2014, when over 38,000 apartments found new owners, the fall exceeded 17%. This trend will continue in the future, experts predict.

54 men enlist in alternative civilian service. The Law on Alternative Civilian Service came into effect in Belarus 1 June 2016. It allows those who cannot serve in the military due to their religious beliefs to work in civilian organisations instead. Military service is mandatory in Belarus for all men. Those enrolled will have to serve 36 months if they do not possess higher education or 24 months if they do, while those in the military serve 18 and 12 month respectively.

These citizens will receive a monthly salary of $200, which is raised after the 13th and 25th month of service. According to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, alternative servicemen will be able to serve in 371 organisations around the country. Currently, 27 men already work in social and health care, housing, agriculture, and forestry organisations, while the rest will be employed by 7 February 2017.

Belarusians will make sausages and canned meat from beavers. In 2016-2017, hunting services will need to gather a stock of 1,750 animals for this purpose, informs Gomelskaya Pravda. According to the Head of the Hunting Department of the Ministry of Forestry Siarhiej Šastakoŭ, many manufacturers have already expressed their interest in this idea.

Beaver meat is rich in protein, selenium, vitamin C, and phosphorus. It also contains more iron than any other type of meat. There are currently over 50,000 beavers in Belarus, but the optimum number is 2.5 times fewer. They build dams on reclamation channels, flooding large parts of the forest and the yards of private farms.

The state press digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.

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