Interpol Lists And Political Refugees from Belarus
Belarusians win at international courts and get asylum in democratic states, but they continue to feel insecure afterwards and still remain in the Interpol database.
The recent arrest of a Belarusian on Interpol’s wanted list, Igor Koktysh, by German police despite the activist's refugee status in Poland is yet another case of Belarus' abuse of Interpol rules.
Igor Koktysh's story has everything that a good drama adventure movie needs: wrongful imprisonment, police raids, a struggle with the state machine in an international court and a reckless escape through the border.
Igor Koktysh vs. Ukraine: How It Started
In 2001, Belarusian authorities accused Koktysh (born in 1980) of the murder and robbery, for which he was facing a punishment as severe as the death penalty. However, the court of appeal found that during the investigation physical and psychological pressure had been applied against him in order to extract false confessions.
Koktysh was acquitted, and the Supreme Court upheld this decision. A year later, the Presidium of the Supreme Court overturned the previous decisions, and the criminal investigation was resumed. By that time Igor Koktysh had moved to Ukraine, where he got married.
In mid-2007 Igor was detained in Ukraine on a Belarusian warrant. “In Sevastopol, a group of thugs with firearms detained me at the seashore. Severe beatings was the response given to any of my questions. I thought they were bandits carrying me out to the forest to kill me. I only felt some relief when I arrived at the police station. An enraged Pavlichenko, a Belarusian colonel known for his bloody reprisals with opposition, ran into the police office and threatened me with life in prison upon my return to Belarus”, Koktysh later told his fearful story.
While awaiting his extradition in gloomy Ukrainian detention centres, Igor sent a complaint to the Strasbourg court. The ECtHR analysed the human rights situation in Belarus and the circumstances of the case and ruled in December 2009 that Koktysh’s extradition to Belarus would be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ukraine was obliged to pay Koktysh 7,000 Euros for the non-pecuniary damage. As a result, Igor Koktysh, previously recognised as a prisoner of conscience by the Amnesty International by the time, was freed in early 2010.
Asylum Seeker De Nouveau
But success in the European Court of Human Rights failed to make Koktysh’s life in Ukraine any more secure. In November 2010, just before the Belarusian presidential election, Ukrainian drug control policy officers made a raid on Koktysh’s apartment. They used brutal physical force against him and his friends, and allegedly found 10 grammes of marijuana.
The story provoked huge media attention. Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s office opened an investigation of the case. As a result, the drug charges against Igor and his friends were dropped and criminal proceedings launched against the drug control officers, including the head of the drug-control department, charged with breaking the law of the inviolability of households and abuse of power.
After the drug case, Igor Koktysh did not feel safe in Ukraine anymore. Since his Belarusian passport expired in 2005 and a consulate refused to extend it, Koktysh decided to cross the Ukraine-Poland border illegally in 2011 and to ask for asylum in Poland. “I got lost in the forest and came across the border signs on the second day. That was a desperate but necessary move, a life or death issue for me”, Igor explained.
Political Refugees Remain on Interpol Lists
On 7 February, police detained Koktysh during his stay in Germany. He spent a few hours at a local police station before his refugee status was confirmed by Polish authorities. Belarus requested his detention and put it on the organisation's Red Notice list. Almost all countries in the world are the members of the largest international police organisation and all their requests, regardless the type of political regime, are treated equally.
This is not the first case when Belarusian authorities abuse Interpol rules in an attempt to reach
political opponents. Interpol cooperation is based on trust between national police organs and the organisation operates on the presumption that policemen in Syria, Canada or Singapore are telling the truth.
Earlier Ales Mikhalevich, a former candidate in the Belarusian presidential election, charged for organising riots but granted refugee status in the Czech Republic, was detained on the basis of the Interpol notice at least twice. His brief detention at the Warsaw airport in late 2011 ended after the interference of Poland’s Foreign Minister. Last September, Mikhalevich had trouble at a New York City airport when heading to a meeting of the UN Human Rights Committee.
Until Interpol undertakes an informal review of a political case and strikes the name out of its database, a person would encounter problems when travelling abroad. And this may last for years, if not decades. The name of a Belarusian Natallia Sudliankova, despite the fact that she was recognised as a refugee by the Czechs in 1999, is still on the the Interpol database.
Strasbourg as a Last Legal Resort
When all national courts fail, the European Court of Human Rights remains the only effective instrument to prevent a third-country applicant’s return to his home country. Belarus is outside the jurisdiction of the ECHR as it is not a member of the Council of Europe. But Belarusians can lodge complaints against the governments of any 47 Council of Europe member countries.
Indeed, 23 of all 28 complaints submitted so far by Belarusians to the ECHR challenged the intention to either extradite or deport them to Belarus. Such applications usually refer, amongst others items, to a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. It concerns the probability of being subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
But as Koktysh's story shows, neither ECHR victories nor obtaining refugee status in a foreign state brings and end to harassment by the Belarusian law enforcement agencies. The only option which such people can use is to draw media attention to their cases, hoping that international police organs will understand the need for "special treatment" with requests coming from Belarus.
Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies
Belarus’ Model of Economic Development May Fail to Pass the ‘Endurance Test’
The Belarusian authorities count on the country's economic growth without taking into account dangerous trends in the demographic situation and its consequences for the labour market. These conclusions appear in a study made by economists of the IPM Research Center, shared with Interfax-West news agency.
"Intentions of the Belarusian authorities to proceed with large-scale modernization of public enterprises imply that accumulation of capital which formed the basis of the expansionary policy is still deemed to be a major factor of the long-term growth", the study says.
Meanwhile, the economists point out that growth of the potential GDP slowed down in 2012 compared to mid-2010s, economic impact of investments decreased, and further extensive accumulation of production factors cannot serve as a basis of the GDP growth in the long-run period. These conclusions also appear in last-year analytical papers of the World Bank and forecasts of the Eurasian Development Bank as well as of a number of international financial institutes.
At the same time, the global financial and economic crisis of 2007-2009 and the currency crisis in Belarus in 2011 "raised the issue of limits of resources of the Belarusian economic policy model", the researchers point out.
According to them, the question is foremost of the risks which are already present in the country's labour market and caused by demographic problems and an increase in labour migration.
There will be no one to work?
The researchers point out that since 2005, the economic growth in the country was positively influenced by the demographic situation. At this particular time, people born in early 1980s, during the previous fertility peak, reached reproductive age. However, today the birth rate is significantly lower, while the death rate keeps up at a consistently high level: its decline was recorded only in 2012.
"Before 2007-2008, in the population structure there was a decrease of share of people in the under-working age and simultaneous growth of share of population in the working age. In the late 2000s, trends became even less favourable. Thus, along with population decline in Belarus, ageing of population began, which has negative impact on the labour market", the study says.
Relying upon the Belstat data, the researchers acknowledge that a decrease in economically active population was recorded in Belarus in 2011-2012. "A decline in employment is evidenced during the last two years. According to the Belstat data, at the end of 2012, the total decline against the maximum level of 2010 was 2%, or almost 100,000 people. If the current demographic trends remain unchanged, the situation in the labour market will worsen", the IPM economists forecast.
These forecasts are supported by a Belstat forecast, in accordance with which in 2020 the working-age population will decrease by 0.5 mln compared to 2012.
"Forecasts of the United Nations Population Department are even more pessimistic. In accordance with the middle scenario, Belarus is faced with a decline in population at the age of 15 to 59 from 6.4 to 5.7 mln during 2010-2020", the researchers say. Moreover, according to the UN, the situation will not improve before 2050.
Extent of Labour Migration
As noted in the study, the demographic situation is aggravated by the fact that they proceed from neutral assumptions of relative migration and suppose that migration flows will remain at the same level. "In the case of Belarus, there is a danger that such an assumption may be too optimistic", the experts believe.
The researchers remind that migration flows in Belarus intensified in 1990s when after the restoration of independence of ex-Soviet republics people began returning to their historic homeland. Later on, the extent of migration dramatically decreased, and already since 1996 the number of migrants never surpassed 20,000 people a year.
Besides, Belarus shows a positive migration balance. "However, an analysis of official documents shows that between 2000 and 2009, 254,000 people, or 2,5% of population who lived in Belarus at the beginning of 2000, and not 113,000 people, left the country", the study says.
The researchers also point out that no reliable data is available in Belarus about the number of Belarusian citizens who left the country to work abroad. "The official statistics isolate people working abroad. However, these figures include only those who went working abroad under an official contract. These statistics do not reckon in those who have seasonal employment nor those who do not register the fact of being employed abroad nor those who are employed unofficially", the experts say.
According to them, this problem is especially acute in the case of labour migration to Russia which does not have border control on its border with Belarus, and where all employment barriers were removed after the Common Economic Space was established.
"The extent of labour migration is difficult to estimate. Officially, according to statistics, about 4,000 Belarusians work abroad, which is at least one order of magnitude less than the actual value", the study notes. According to the census of 2009, 41,900 people worked outside of Belarus, including 37,700 who worked in Russia, which is by an order of magnitude less than the data received through the analysis of employment contracts concluded by the Belarusians abroad.
Why Do They Leave?
The Belarusians are actively considering employment opportunities abroad, as evidenced by a poll conducted by the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) in 2009. The results of the poll show that 18.8% of respondents would like to leave the country, and many of those who were inclined to stay in the country took this decision only because they lacked money for emigration (12% of respondents). Other 6.4% of respondents were not sure that they would find jobs abroad.
"The main reason which prompts people to move to another country is a desire to improve their financial situation. This reason for a possible emigration from Belarus was cited by 81.8% of respondents wishing to emigrate ", the IPM experts say.
The researchers point out that after the crisis of 2011 these trends gathered momentum, and pretexts for emigration strengthened.
Russia continues to lead the way in the list of countries which are the most attractive for labour migrants. Thus, despite the fact that after the stabilization of the Belarusian economy in late 2011 the income gap for work in Belarus and Russia narrowed, Russia attracts Belarusian citizens by lack of language barrier and simple employment procedure.
The experts also point out that the labour outflow to Russia is more apparent in eastern regions of the country as well as in small towns.
Look Who Left
"However, one cannot assert that poverty pushes people to seek employment abroad. The most socially vulnerable groups in Belarus are unemployed and economically inactive population which cannot find jobs even in the country. The international labour migration is chosen by rather well-off city dwellers who in such a way receive additional income for improving their financial situation and not for combatting poverty", the experts stress.
The average age of labour migrants is now just over 37 years (economically active population – 39 years), and it is basically the same for all areas of labour migration. At the same time, those who go to Russia include young professionals as well as people of middle and older age, while EU countries attract skilled youth mostly.
Studies conducted by the IPM show that men dominate among those who go to Russia to earn money, and women amount to 9.4% only, while in other directions their share amounts to about one third. "Gender differences can be explained by differences in demand for workforce: probably, "traditionally male" professions are in higher demand in the Russian labour market", the researchers say.
The labour migration is simplified by the fact that some Belarusians can get the Pole's Card and go to work in Poland, for example. Some people have relatives in Russia, which facilitates their adaptation to a new job.
The experts also point out to usually higher level of education and skills of people going to work abroad. Almost a half of labour migrants from Belarus employed in Russia work in construction, about 30% are working in transport, retail trade and provision of other communal, social and personal services.
Impact on the Economy
The researchers note that the labour migration has an ambiguous effect on social policy in Belarus. On the one hand, the population has a short-term effect of additional income in the form of transfers from labour migrants. However, on the macro level, labour migration places additional burden on the Social Protection Fund as a part of contributions to pension benefits are lost.
While the amount of transfers from labour migration in 2011 is realistically estimated at 3.2% of GDP, the Belarusians are by no means inclined to invest these funds in new businessws or to make long-term savings in their bank accounts.
The researchers point out that Belarus faced a large scale labour outflow in 2011. It was felt most acutely in construction, health care and IT domain.
"In the medium term, Belarus, according to demographic projections, faces reduction in workforce. Thus, the need to resolve macroeconomic problems is complemented by the need to reform the social protection system and the labour market, without which the reform in other sectors will not be efficient enough", the researchers sum up.
In their opinion, we need not only changes in regulation of labour market (employment policy and wages) but also far-reaching reforms in the real sector: privatization and restructuring of public enterprises, improvement of business climate and liberalization of product markets.
The experts note that the recommendations made by the World Bank in the Country Economic Memorandum 2012 and some other documents are still relevant for the country. In particular, this concerns abolition of administrative control over wages and employment in public enterprises, improvement of social protection for unemployed and reform of the pension system.
The original article appeared in Russian on interfax.by.