In March 2017, the international conference, organized in the framework of an EU-funded and IOM-implemented project*, brought together practitioners from 10 countries to share their best practices in the field of integrated border management. One of the conference moderators, Mr. Vladimirs Zaguzovs, Head of the Administration Department of the State Border Guard of Latvia and IOM short-term expert, discussed with IOM Ukraine the latest developments in the European border and migration management**.
What are the implications of current migration crisis in Europe for countries like Ukraine, Belarus, or Latvia, which so far have been away from the main migratory routes to the European Union?
First of all, we have to look at migration routes towards Europe. The first one is from Africa across the Mediterranean Sea mainly to Italy. The second one is from Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh via Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria. And the third one is a small one, from Bangladesh and Vietnam via Russia to the EU. Some irregular migrants tried to cross the Russia – Ukraine border, but taking into account the situation Ukraine is facing, this pressure is currently not representing a big challenge for Ukrainian border authorities.
Countries may lack resources to autonomously protect the borders and they need support from outside. The European Union is investing a lot in strengthening capacity of Belarusian and Ukrainian border guards. Millions of euros are allocated not only for technical equipment, but also for capacity building and training staff of Ukrainian and Belarusian border agencies. And border guards from both Ukraine and Belarus demonstrate clear and stable commitment to enhance their capacities.
Irregular migration is not only about migrants trying to get to the EU, it is also about migrant smugglers, who are earning money on the tragedies of people escaping from conflicts. Do you see any signs that the prosecution of smugglers could be fostered?
Different states have different approaches to tackling this issue. For example, in Latvia any illegal crossing of the border should be punished by criminal law, while in Ukraine the irregular border crossing is an administrative violation. In Latvia the sanction for a smuggler is up to eight years in prison if more than two migrants were smuggled or if a migrant died. The sanction for an irregular migrant for an illegal crossing of the border is up to four years. Also, it is important to communicate with local people and prevent them from becoming facilitators of irregular migration as a practice to alleviate their poor economic situation.
Last year the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was adopted, and of course much effort will be needed to have it implemented. How do you see this delicate balance between tackling irregular migration and at the same time protecting rights and wellbeing of migrants?
In Latvia officers are very well trained in detecting asylum seekers. If investigations confirm that a person comes from a country where his or her health or life is endangered, he or she is likely to obtain refugee status. But there are a lot of cases when irregular migrants apprehended at the border and detained do not apply for asylum in Latvia, as they want to go further, for instance to the Nordic states. There are cases when irregular migrants are returned to their countries, and in some time they try to reach their goal once again, attempting to cross the border irregularly. This underlines that there is a huge market offering a variety of services to irregular migrants. Therefore, there is a need for an extensive international cooperation to tackle this problem.
It is almost half a year since the enhancement of Frontex, which is now the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, was announced. What will the reform of this EU agency mean for the EU Member States and neighbouring countries?
First of all, there is a significant change not only in the history of Frontex, but in the history of the whole EU: now not only EU Member States are responsible for border protection. This is now a shared responsibility between Member States and Frontex. Frontex now is not only the coordinating, but also implementing body. It has full responsibility of border protection and opportunity to cooperate with non-EU countries.
As far as I know, Ukrainian border guards are participating in many activities carried out by Frontex and/or under its coordination, and Frontex aims to support further development of Ukrainian border guards’ capacities. Currently there is an opinion that the EU is not able to tackle migration-related challenges on its own. It has to cooperate closer not only with neighbouring countries, but with a wide range of countries of transit and origin of migrants.
*The second stage of the EU-funded regional project “Strengthening Surveillance and Bilateral Coordination Capacity Along the Common Border Between Belarus and Ukraine” was implemented from April 2014 till March 2017, co-funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, IOM, and border agencies of Ukraine and Belarus. The total budget of the project was EUR 5.350 mln for two countries in equal proportions. The project increased the protection of the state border between Ukraine and Belarus through the provision of equipment for implementing border surveillance, joint study visits to the EU to acknowledge European best practices in Integrated Border Management (IBM), seminars on various aspects of IBM, and the establishment of a pilot Common Contact Point "Pinsk-Zhytomyr".
**Thoughts, expressed in this interview, belong to their author and do not necessarily reflect the position of IOM.