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Belarusians in exile: an overlooked issue addressed by the Parliamentary Assembly

Belarus in exile

Some 200 to 500 000 Belarusians were forced to flee their country as a result of the repression that fell after the rigged elections of 9 August 2020. While they have a common wish – return as rapidly as possible to a democratic Belarus – they do not necessarily describe themselves in the same way. However, whether they are migrants, diaspora members or refugees, these Belarusians now living abroad face common challenges. Some experts argue that they should be labelled as Belarusians politically displaced persons.

Paul Galles (LUX, EPP/CD) has been appointed by the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons to prepare a report on “Addressing the specific challenges faced by the Belarusians in exile.” During its last meeting, on 24 January, the committee held an exchange of views with Kristina Rikhter, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s advisor on legal affairs, and Valdzis Fuhaš, founder of the human rights organisation Human Constanta.

The exchange of views was the opportunity to highlight the situation of Belarusian displaced. Indeed, mass exodus that has unfolded over the past couple of years due to large-scale repression has been overlooked in the context of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Still, the context remains of grave concern and is getting worse. The experts recalled that being Belarusian is now criminalised due to recent legislative changes: reading Belarusian literature, wearing symbols of their country is considered as a crime by the regime. Furthermore, deprivation of citizenship has become a growing issue: any Belarusian in exile is at risk of statelessness due to recent changes introduced in the law by the regime

Among the number of challenges identified, Ms Rikhter and Mr Fuhaš stressed obstacles faced in obtaining visa and residence permits, access to physical and mental health care, the possibility for Belarus businesses to be ran from abroad. The reality is that it is impossible to stay or return to Belarus for those involved in civil society activities especially if criticising the war in Ukraine or the regime in place. The two experts called for eased procedures for people who need to flee for basic security reasons. They also encouraged host states to explore innovative regularisation strategies beyond conventional schemes for Belarusian displaced, for example access to work permits. They concluded that it is important for Belarusians to integrate in countries of asylum and at the same time, be empowered to fight for their rights and identity.

Paul Galles’ report is expected to be debated by the Parliamentary Assembly during its fourth part-session in October 2023.