Addressing the specific challenges faced by the Belarusians in exile
- Parliamentary Assembly
debate on 20 June 2023 (16th sitting) (see Doc. 15783, report of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and
Displaced Persons, rapporteur: Mr Paul Galles). Text adopted by the Assembly on
20 June 2023 (16th sitting).
1. The Parliamentary Assembly is deeply
concerned by the fate of hundreds of thousands of Belarusians who
are in exile because they had no other choice than to flee the repressive
regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. If any doubts remained about the
nature of this regime, the rigged presidential election of 9 August
2020 has shown its true character, turning Belarus into an open-air
prison where human rights have been reduced to nothing.
The Assembly recalls Resolution
“Consequences of the Russian Federation’s
continued aggression against Ukraine: role and response of the Council
of Europe”, in which it expressed its resolve “to intensify its
engagement with Belarusian civil society, human rights defenders,
independent journalists, academia and democratic forces respecting
the values and principles of the Organisation”.
3. The Assembly is impressed by the resilience, courage and determination
of the Belarusians in exile who are fighting for democracy to prevail
in their country. It is conscious that a new obstacle for them emerged
on 24 February 2022 with the large-scale aggression of the Russian
Federation against Ukraine, in which the Lukashenka regime is actively
participating. It regrets that the more time that passes since 9 August
2020, the day Lukashenka in reality lost the elections, the further
away in time the return of the Belarusians who find themselves in
4. The Assembly can only be impressed by the work and initiatives
of the Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the United Transitional
Cabinet of Belarus, which aim at providing their compatriots with the
services the regime deliberately withholds.
5. Recognising that the Belarusian people cannot be equated with
the Lukashenka regime, the Assembly considers that Belarusians in
exile should not be treated in a discriminatory manner because of
the participation of that regime in the war against Ukraine.
6. The Assembly emphasises that most of the Belarusians who have
been forced to leave their country in the context of the 2020 presidential
election have only one wish: to return to a democratic Belarus.
It is therefore important that host countries do their utmost to
ensure that they can stay legally and are welcomed in dignified conditions
that are respectful of their fundamental rights, as guaranteed by
the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5) and other relevant
Council of Europe instruments, pending the establishment of a democratic
regime in Belarus.
7. The Assembly deeply deplores that the Lukashenka regime is
continuing to exercise pressure on those who have left the country,
notably by refusing to provide consular services to its citizens
and by threatening their security.
8. While many European countries have opened their borders to
Belarusians, the Assembly notes that the closer those countries
are to Belarus, the greater is their understanding of the situation
of those fleeing.
9. While applauding Lithuania’s and Poland’s efforts to find
legal and practical solutions to welcome Belarusians in exile, the
Assembly notes that more can be done.
10. Regretting that too many obstacles and hurdles continue to
affect those who have found themselves in other countries, the Assembly
is convinced that better knowledge of the situation in Belarus and
political will are the prerequisites to adopting measures which
will alleviate as much as possible the difficulties of being in exile.
11. It calls upon member States to recognise the unique situation
in which Belarusians in exile find themselves, requiring out-of-the-box
solutions to ensure that they can live their lives as unimpeded
as possible pending their return to a democratic Belarus.
12. The Assembly hails the establishment by the Committee of Ministers
of a contact group on co-operation between the Council of Europe
and the Belarusian democratic forces and civil society. This sui generis co-operation model,
the first established with the Belarusian democratic forces by an
international organisation, aims to provide the Organisation’s support
and expertise to strengthen Belarusian democratic society in line with
Council of Europe core values. The Assembly is also delighted to
welcome representatives of the Belarusian democratic forces in the
work of its committees, by decision of the Bureau of the Assembly.
13. The Assembly strongly believes that it is high time to translate
the political support that the Belarusian democratic forces enjoy
among the member States into action and that measures taken against
the Lukashenka regime should not affect the people fighting against
14. The Assembly is convinced that, in order to ensure full respect
for human rights of Belarusians while they are in exile and, ultimately,
to contribute to the democratic transition in their country, the
Council of Europe member States should put in place relatively simple
and non-costly measures within their own jurisdiction for those
Legal entry and stay
While respecting visa requirements and ensuring the
necessary security checks, member States should seek to keep their
borders open for those fleeing the Lukashenka regime by taking, inter alia,
the following measures:
15.1 issuing humanitarian visas in
all embassies and consulates still operating in Minsk and expanding the
eligibility criteria for such visas to relatives of political prisoners;
15.2 opening up and guaranteeing the possibility of granting
visas for European Union countries, in those member States where
a visa is not required for Belarusian citizens, without requiring
a residence permit in those countries;
15.3 issuing multiple-entry Schengen visas for relatives of
Belarusians in exile who come to visit them on a short-term and
15.4 issuing longer duration multiple-entry visas to be used
as a back-up option for those who are at risk of arrest in Belarus.
The United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus shall bear the responsibility
of identifying and recognising the individuals who run this risk.
The clearly defined criteria should be jointly developed by the
cabinet with partners from member States.
16. Member States should also facilitate expert-to-expert talks
between their relevant migration authorities and the relevant representatives
of the Belarusian democratic forces in exile to solve problems as
they arise in a pragmatic way.
17. Member States are encouraged to put in place measures to ensure
transparency in the decision-making process through which credentials
are issued by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to support the issuance
of visas or the legalisation process.
18. Those member States which have not yet done so should rapidly
develop legal instruments allowing for the legalisation of the stay
of Belarusians in exile.
19. Recognising the importance of psychological stability and
the feeling of safety for those who have left their home involuntarily
or forcibly, the Assembly calls upon member States to provide long-term
legalisation for Belarusians in exile, thus avoiding unnecessary
hurdles and stress.
20. In order to support the work of their relevant migration offices,
member States are encouraged to prepare a Belarus country factsheet
and provide training for their staff on the actual situation in
this country, so as to enable them to take prompt and sound decisions
on individual cases.
Freedom of movement
21. Member States are encouraged, in co-operation with
the European Commission, to identify adequate solutions to allow
Belarusians in exile to travel within the European Union, notably
through systematising the use of an “alien’s passport” and/or continuing
to recognise Belarusian passports which have expired.
22. The Assembly also invites member States, in close co-operation
with the European Commission and the International Civil Aviation
Organization (ICAO), to discuss with the relevant representatives
of the Belarusian democratic forces in exile the possibility of
issuing a passport for Belarusian citizens in exile which would
be recognised by member States.
Safety and security
23. Underlining that deprivation of nationality should
not lead to statelessness and that, even if Belarus is not a party
to the United Nations conventions on statelessness, these are principles
of international law and human rights law, which should be observed
by all States; recalling that Belarus has accepted Georgia’s recommendation
under the 3rd cycle of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review;
and noting that Belarus pledged to accede to both United Nations
conventions on statelessness at the High-Level Segment on Statelessness
in 2019, the Assembly strongly encourages member States to do their
utmost to recognise the importance of establishing statelessness
determination procedures, which in turn would provide protection
in host States to those rendered stateless.
24. As addressing a request to a Belarusian consulate, such as
for certification of a clean criminal record necessary for the legalisation
process or the prolongation of a passport, can lead to reprisals
or threats against the applicants’ relatives who stayed in Belarus
or to the applicants themselves, member States are strongly encouraged
not to require documents obtainable only through official Belarusian
25. Member States should abstain from extraditing Belarusian citizens
in exile on the basis of Red Notices issued by INTERPOL at the request
of the Lukashenka regime, given the use of criminal prosecutions
for political purposes. If in doubt, they are encouraged to verify
INTERPOL requests from Belarus through the Law and Order Restoration
Office of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus, which includes
former law-enforcement officers who were dismissed for political
reasons and who thus possess the necessary qualifications, experience
and access to databases.
26. The Assembly is concerned that information transferred by
European banks to Belarusian banks has been used by Belarusian security
services to target human rights defenders in Belarus. The Assembly
calls on member States to encourage the private sector to pay due
heed to human rights issues in its operations and undertake the
necessary due diligence to protect Belarusian human rights defenders
who are clients of private sector businesses from risks of further
persecutions as a result of their operations or information exchanges. Furthermore,
member States should do their utmost to prevent the misuse of international
criminal co-operation measures by the Lukashenka regime as an additional
tool for repression.
27. More generally, member States should not deem Belarus to be
a safe country. They are encouraged to send referral letters to
the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court expressing their
concern for the situation in Belarus and asking him to respond to
a communication submitted under Article 15, paragraph 2, of the
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court entitled “The situation
in Belarus/Lithuania/Poland/Latvia and Ukraine: crimes against humanity
of deportation and persecution” filed by the International Partnership
for Human Rights, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Global Diligence
LPP and Truth Hounds on 19 May 2021.
Democratic forces in exile
28. Given the tremendous role that the People’s Embassies
of Belarus can play, notably as communication channels with the
national authorities, the Assembly strongly believes that member
States should establish working relationships with them as representatives
of a democratic Belarus and envisage supporting them through the
provision of organisational, information and material assistance,
with the aim of developing their competences and sustainability.
29. The Assembly strongly encourages the parliaments of those
member States which have not yet done so to establish a parliamentary
friendship group to create a network to share the best measures
to support Belarusians in exile. It is convinced that such a network
would also facilitate the dialogue with the Belarusian democratic
forces in exile, including the Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya,
the United Transition Cabinet of Belarus and the Coordination Council.
30. The Assembly also invites member States to provide funds for
and contribute to the activities agreed in the framework of the
Council of Europe’s Contact Group on Belarus, in particular taking
advantage of the activities proposed by the Secretariat of the Assembly
under “Strengthening political dialogue”.
Support to civil society
31. The Assembly is convinced that it is indispensable
to create conditions to ensure the sustainability of Belarusian
civil society organisations in exile, in particular by providing
them with the tools and means to mobilise their compatriots in exile,
to carry out their activities and to remain visible. This should
be particularly the case for organisations aiming at developing
and strengthening the Belarusian language and culture.
32. Underlining the role played by the Expert Council on NGO Law
of the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations
of the Council of Europe (Conference of INGOs) in supporting freedom
of association in Europe, the Assembly strongly encourages member
States to request its opinions on measures adversely affecting the
operation of Belarusian NGOs in exile and to adopt policies accordingly.
33. It also encourages the constituent members of the Conference
of INGOs to co-operate and assist Belarusian NGOs in exile.
Support to lawyers in exile
34. In the light of the repression faced by the legal
profession in Belarus and the fact that many lawyers are in exile
abroad, the Assembly calls for the recognition of the Belarusian
Association of Human Rights Lawyers as the organisation entrusted
with the promotion and protection of the human rights of lawyers
deprived of the right to exercise their profession in Belarus, and
with improving provision of legal assistance.
Access to education and culture
35. Recognising that children can be adversely affected
by the forced exile of their parents, the Assembly encourages host
countries to integrate Belarusian children promptly and to work
towards strengthening their national identity and culture. The Assembly
recalls the pertinence of the language education and linguistic integration
tools for children developed by the Council of Europe, which can
be used to help the integration of newly arrived Belarusian children
into ordinary classes. At the same time, it also supports the creation
of classes in Belarusian in schools where there are sufficient numbers
of Belarusian children, open not only to members of the Belarusian
national minority but also to those who have recently arrived.
36. The Assembly, impressed by the renewed interest in the Belarusian
language and culture, strongly supports the initiatives by civil
society organisations to preserve and strengthen these among the
members of the long-established diaspora and the more recent arrivals.
It therefore strongly encourages member States to facilitate the
creation of publishing houses that work in Belarusian, the teaching
of the Belarusian language and culture in universities and the development
of new tools to support the dissemination of the Belarusian language
and culture among those in exile and also within Belarus. It believes
that it is crucial for Belarusian statehood that its culture and
language find again their rightful place.
37. The Assembly, aware that academic freedom has been under attack
for some years in Belarus, would welcome the creation of a scientific
journal for liberal-minded scholars both in exile and in Belarus
to be included in influential citation databases, such as Scopus,
Web of Science or Google Scholar.
38. Recognising the role played by the European Humanities University,
the only Belarusian university able to operate on the basis of academic
freedom and adherence to European values, in exile in Vilnius since
2005, the Assembly invites member States, and the European Union,
to further support this institution and open up further opportunities
so that it continues to develop creative, free and critical thinking
among Belarusian students and is in a position to attract scholars
and students from Eastern Partnership countries.
39. Understanding the importance of terminology and adequate transliteration
from Belarusian, the Assembly strongly encourages member States
to correctly transliterate all terms relating to Belarus.
Access to financial services and
the pursuit of economic activities
40. Recognising the difficulties faced by individuals,
businesses and civil society organisations to open a bank account
in some member States, the Assembly asks the member States to encourage
their banks to make the distinction between the Lukashenka regime
and the people who have fled it, in particular by allowing the “know
your customer” due diligence procedure to be carried out by appropriate
and relevant structures designated by the Belarusian democratic
forces in exile.
41. The Assembly encourages the Government of Ukraine to co-operate
with the Belarusian democratic forces in exile, particularly with
the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus, to conduct detailed
checks of the bank accounts of Belarusians who had found shelter
in Ukraine and, in the case of a positive outcome of such checks
with regard to the national security of Ukraine, to proceed with
the deblocking of the 50 remaining bank accounts that are currently
inaccessible by their owners.
42. The Assembly welcomes the fact that many businesses were able
to relocate from Belarus in particular to Georgia, Lithuania and
Poland, but notes that difficulties persist. It encourages measures
to be taken which will ease processes of transfer, accreditation,
acquisition, access to credit, access to audit services, etc. In
this context, it believes that the Poland Business Harbour could
serve as a promising practice to be emulated by other member States.
Ultimately, the Assembly trusts that these businesses, whether they
are in the information technology, retail, logistics, small services
or construction sectors, if allowed to operate and pay tax, will
contribute to the economy of their host countries and help alleviate
the efforts made by these States to welcome the Belarusians who
found shelter from repression and violence.