NEWS: Ukraine: Smugglers Cash In On Migrants

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Fri, 30 Oct 1998 06:41:13 -0800 (PST)


**Note from facilitator: This news piece is about "smuggling" or facilitated
migration. However, I thought many on the list would find it very
interesting---in particular, does anyone on the list have information about
the migrant groups mentioned (Afghans, Sri Lankans, Iranians and
Bangladeshis) being exploited for labor purposes in Central/Western Europe ? **

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Ukraine: Smugglers Cash In On Migrants
By Lily Hyde

Kyiv, 27 October 1998 (Radio Free Europe/RL) -- For the exhausted group of
migrants, it looked like the first sign of a new life. Ukraine's western
border lay before them - the strip of plowed earth, the signs, the fence.
And not a border guard in sight. On the other side was Poland, a step
nearer to the West.

The migrants handed over their money, said good-bye to their Ukrainian
guides, began walking and...met a border guard. A Ukrainian one. The border
was three kilometers ahead.

The fake border is just one of the tricks used by Ukrainian smugglers
cashing in on migrants desperate to reach the West. Usually they abandon
their charges in fields or railway stations, or they drive them around in
circles and leave them where they started. Then they disappear, often
taking with them all the money the runaways from Asia and the Middle East
had possessed.

Or they abandon migrants just beyond the Ukrainian border. Last week (Oct.
21) Hungarian border guards found 36 Afghans, including nine children,
sitting in a vehicle near the Ukrainian border. The Afghans said that after
their driver abandoned them they had stayed put because it was raining and
they had no idea where they were. A spokesman for the Hungarian border
guards said 20 Indians had been found in the same area just hours earlier.

So far this year Ukrainian border guards have detained 8,500 illegal
migrants attempting to cross out of the country on its western borders.
Between 1991 and 1996, a total of 38,000 were detained; in 1997 alone
11,000 were stopped.

Nikolai Bancholkha, head of the Uzhgorod border checkpoint in western
Ukraine, called illegal migration an acute, fast-growing problem.
Bancholkha says it has become a "mass phenomenon", adding that illegal
migrants used to travel alone or in pairs but are now frequently found in
groups of 50 and 60.

Chinese and Afghan top the list of nationalities crossing the border, along
with Sri Lankans, Iranians and Bangladeshis.

Most of the migrants stopped while attempting to move across the border out
of Ukraine have current Ukrainian tourist, business or study visas, often
obtained through tourist agencies accredited in the country. Others arrive
in Ukraine illegally but turn to the State Committee for Nationalities and
Migration, which deals with refugees, to get legal documents.

Yelena Malinovska, deputy head of the state committee's department dealing
with refugees, said a lot of migrants only want to stay in Ukraine
temporarily. She said they often want to establish a legal right to be in
Ukraine before attempting to travel further west.

Currently, only about 40 percent of those who apply for refugee status,
which allows them to reside in Ukraine legally, are accepted. Authorities
have also begun to strip refugees of their legal status when they try to
cross the western borders. In the first half of this year, 37 foreigners
lost their refugee status for that reason.

Migrants hide in trucks and railway carriages on their way to the border,
travel in specially hired buses, or walk on foot during the night,
according to the State Borders Committee.

Andrei Kucherov, press spokesman for the committee, said Ukrainian border
guards are finding it hard to cope with the increase in illegal border
crossings. The guards are given no extra funds to feed migrants at
checkpoints or to hire translators to find out what happened so a report
can be filed. By law, illegal migrants are supposed to be deported. In
reality, Ukraine cannot afford to stick to the law. Kucherov said migrants
are just put on the train back to Kyiv under the care of the conductor and
told "never to do it again." Many, he said, escape en route and return to
the people who promised to help them flee to the West.

Not all of them try again. Some end up at the offices of the International
Organization for Migration, which helps disappointed migrants return home.
Dmitri Dmitrenko, operations assistant at the migration organization's Kyiv
office, said "those who come (to him) have one wish; "to get back home."

Since 1996, the International Organization for Migration's Stranded
Migrants in Transit program has repatriated some 200 people to Pakistan,
India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The program provides plane tickets and
helps migrants obtain Ukrainian exit visas.

Kaman, a young man from Pakistan, spent a year in Ukraine before turning to
the migration organization out of desperation. His dream had been to go to
Italy, where his classmate had gone a year before. He borrowed money from
friends, and he sold his house and possessions to pay $3,500 to a
countryman who had promised to help him. Kaman said: "My classmate called
from Italy and told me to go with this man," adding "I trusted him totally."

The agent obtained Russian and Ukrainian visas and flew with Kaman to
Moscow; from there they took a train to Ukraine. Kaman had thought they
would travel to Odessa, where a boat was supposed to take him closer to
Italy. Instead, his helper abandoned him at the Kyiv railway station after
taking all his remaining money and his passport.

Ever since, Kaman has been relying on the Pakistani community in Kyiv to
support him. He said he "can't go out into the street for fear of the
police, because (he has) no documents." But when asked what he will do on
his return to Pakistan, he looked at the ground. "I don't know myself," he
said. "I have no home, no family. I will look for a job, but there are no
jobs."

The State Borders Committee's Kucherov says migrants such as Kaman have
provided lucrative opportunities for locals in Ukraine's depressed border
areas. He said that "for most people living in the border zones, dealing
with illegal immigrants is their only source of income". Kucherov said "you
can see them in the Lviv railway station. They go up to Asians and Africans
and strike a deal right there in the station."

Kucherov said the locals are generally not caught or prosecuted. But the
State Borders Committee says that so far this year, more than 300 people,
mostly Ukrainians, have been arrested for assisting illegal migrants.


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