On June 18, a press conference was held at the National Press Center of the Republic of Belarus with the participation of the Representation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Belarus, the Department of Citizenship and Migration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus. The event was attended by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and the Honored Artist of the Republic of Belarus Iskui Abalyan.
The spread of the coronavirus pandemic has significantly affected the work with and for refugees. In order to respect physical distancing and minimize visits to the Belarusian Red Cross office (the Belarusian Red Cross Society provides direct assistance to refugees — ed. note), the most vulnerable persons within the competence of the UNHCR were provided monthly financial assistance for 3 months in advance (from April to June). All events, including those dedicated to the World Refugee Day, were shifted to an online format. The UNHCR in Belarus prepared information materials on the COVID-19 pandemic, prevention of domestic violence, and where to go for assistance and help, intended, inter alia, for distribution in temporary accommodation centers for asylum-seekers. Monitoring of access to the territory and to the state refugee status determination procedure was strengthened. From March to May 2020, 42 people who were economically affected by the coronavirus pandemic received special financial assistance equivalent to 5,368 US dollars. The material assistance equivalent to 1,461 US dollars was also provided to 15 medical workers among UNHCR people of concern.
Aleksey Begun, Head of the Department of Citizenship and Migration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, noted that within the period of the implementation of the legislation on forced migration in the Republic of Belarus, about 9,500 foreigners from 71 countries of the world applied for refugee status or complementary protection. 954 of them were granted refugee status, and more than 3,000 forced migrants received complementary protection. This year alone, the number of applicants has been recorded at more than 260, about 75% of whom were citizens of Ukraine. The average portrait of a forced migrant who lives in the territory of Belarus is a person of working age who has a job, often it is a family with one or more children. With the assistance of the UNHCR in Belarus, the country has three operating temporary accommodation centers for those who apply for protection.
"In recent years, the geography of persons who have filed an application at the state border has expanded significantly. They are citizens of Cameroon, Yemen, Egypt, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Turkey, and other countries. Among different categories of foreigners, we were often approached by women with infants and young children, as well as people with various diseases," said Aleksei Sytenkov, Deputy Head of the Preliminary Investigation Department of the State Border Committee of Belarus.
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Iskui Abalyan called on everyone not to remain indifferent to the problem of refugees and stateless persons and to find opportunities to join the common cause of assistance through the Agency's Representation in Minsk or the partner organizations.
"Through the prism of the challenges faced by people around the world, including refugees and forcibly displaced persons, during the pandemic, we clearly see how important mutual assistance and unity are. This World Refugee Day, on behalf of UNHCR, I am appealing to everyone to help continue this global movement of solidarity and action.. Absolutely everyone: government agencies, business community, , non-governmental institutions and individuals – everyone can make the difference, every action counts. Contribution to promoting the values of inclusion, respect, and dignity for all, including refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons. We are stronger when we work together," said Jean-Yves Bouchardy, UNHCR Representative in Belarus.
In the near future, Belarus plans to join the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. UNHCR welcomes the pledge to do so made by the Government in October 2019 during the High-Level Segment on Statelessness of the 70th session of the UNHCR Executive Committee.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights, and building a better future for refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced communities, and stateless persons. The Agency seeks to ensure the right of every person fleeing violence, persecution, war or disaster in their home country to seek asylum and receive protection in another state. The UNHCR Representation in Belarus promotes the involvement of the business sector in humanitarian activities, as well as works jointly with state administrative agencies and non-governmental organizations. The UNHCR has been working in Belarus since September 1995.