Deportation under scrutiny: Belarus's increasing expulsions for 'extremism' and 'protest' activities
Belarus has become known for its active use of expulsion as a tool against foreign citizens accused of “extremism” or participation in peaceful protest actions. Administrative prosecution for acts such as “unauthorized picketing,” “petty hooliganism,” and “distribution of extremist materials” can often be the catalyst for such expulsions. Frequently, individuals are directly transported to the border or escorted to a train or plane immediately following their detention. Recently, pro-government Telegram channels have even floated the notion of allegedly considering the “deportation of a Ukrainian for subscribing to extremist channels and participating in rallies.” Together with Pavel Sapelka, a human rights defender from Viasna, we explore the legality of expulsion for “protest” and “extremist” activities, how this procedure takes place in practice, and how the deportation of Ukrainians is currently carried out amidst a full-scale war in Ukraine.
Understanding “expulsion” and “deportation”
“Deportation” is a form of administrative sanction, as specified by the Code of Administrative Offenses. It is imposed as a primary or secondary punishment and is used in the circumstances directly mentioned in the code. These instances are predominantly related to offenses associated with violating state border regulations.
The term most commonly refers to the revocation of permission for temporary or permanent residence in Belarus, followed by measures for voluntary or enforced expulsion, which procedurally looks like deportation. These legal relationships are regulated by the law of January 4, 2010, No. 105-3, “On the legal status of foreign citizens and stateless persons in the Republic of Belarus.”
How legislation regulates the revocation of temporary or permanent residence permits
Temporary and permanent residence permits can be annulled based on a series of grounds specified in the law mentioned above. In the context of participation in protest activities, for instance, the permit could be revoked if a foreigner has repeatedly (five or more times) received administrative penalties within one calendar year and the period during which they would be considered not to have received an administrative penalty has not yet lapsed. The stay of a foreigner in Belarus may be contradicted by the interests of national security, public order, protection of morality, health of the population, rights and freedoms of the citizens of the Republic of Belarus, and other persons. Furthermore, if a foreigner is convicted in Belarus or another state for committing a crime recognized as such by the Criminal Code and the conviction is not removed or extinguished, their permit may be revoked.
A foreigner's temporary and permanent residence permit will be mandatorily annulled if:
The foreigner is included in the list of persons whose entry into the Republic of Belarus is prohibited or undesirable.
What is the period within which a person must leave Belarus after the annulment of a residence permit?
The vague wording of the law regarding involvement in extremist activities as grounds for the annulment of a residence permit (as well as some other phrasing) provides room for abuse and manipulation of the law and, therefore, for arbitrary deprivation of the right to reside in Belarus.
In the event that a residence permit issued to a foreigner is annulled and there are no other legal grounds for their stay in the country, the foreigner is obliged to leave Belarus within 15 days from the day of notification of the decision to annul the temporary residence permit, or within one month from the day of notification of the decision to annul the permanent residence permit.
In both cases, unless another departure period is established by legislative acts regulating the peculiarities of the legal status of foreigners applying for refugee status, additional protection, or asylum in the Republic of Belarus, as well as foreigners who have been granted refugee status, additional protection, asylum, or temporary protection in the Republic of Belarus.
Who makes the decision to expel a person, and can it be appealed?
Territorial internal affairs bodies, independently or at the request of relevant state bodies and other organizations in Belarus, make decisions regarding the annulment of temporary residence permits.
These decisions can be appealed to a higher authority within ten business days from the day the foreigners are notified of the decisions. Subsequent appeals can be made to the court.
Can Ukrainians be expelled to their homeland during a full-scale war?
There are circumstances under which foreigners cannot be expelled from the Republic of Belarus. Specifically, foreigners cannot be deported to a foreign state where their lives or freedom are endangered due to their race, religion, citizenship, national affiliation, belonging to a certain social group, or political beliefs. Likewise, they can't be deported to a foreign state where they face the death penalty or a threat to their life due to violence in conditions of armed conflict, be it of an international or non-international character.
However, these provisions do not apply to foreigners who pose a threat to the national security of the Republic of Belarus or have been convicted of committing a crime classified as particularly serious by the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.
Under no circumstances can foreigners be expelled from Belarus to a foreign state where they face torture.
Therefore, authorities generally have an instrument, based on undemocratic national law, to force a foreigner to leave Belarus for political reasons. To avoid danger upon returning to their home country, or in cases where the return is not directly possible, foreigners have the right to seek opportunities to travel to a safe country for transit purposes or to seek protection there.
How does expulsion from Belarus occur in practice?
According to human rights defenders, since the start of mass protest actions in 2020, dozens of foreigners have been stripped of their residence permits and were forced to leave Belarus due to political persecution. Foreigners have even been expelled from the country for subscribing to “extremist channels,” participating in protest actions, staging “unauthorized pickets” with the slogan “Long Live Belarus,” or committing “petty hooliganism” during a conversation with a district police officer.
It is known that citizens of the Russian Federation have been directly transported to the border immediately after detention or escorted with their ticket and documents to a plane or train to ensure that they are indeed returning to Russia. Often people travel into uncertainty, leaving behind work, home, and family in Belarus. Typically, they are not even allowed to say goodbye to their loved ones before deportation—only to meet for a few minutes to gather their belongings before departure.
Relatives of some of the detainees, while they are serving time in detention centers, may receive a call from the Citizenship and Migration Department (CMD) asking them to prepare the necessary documents for deportation and then bring them to the department. Thus, relatives find out that their loved ones will not return home after the arrest and need to collect their belongings and arrange for transfer. In such cases, the individual practically has no opportunity to appeal this decision.
However, there are also cases where an individual is given time to prepare for departure and told when they must leave the country. Then they gather their documents and purchase tickets themselves.
For example, a Russian citizen was notified of her expulsion one month after a court hearing on an administrative case; the decision was made by one of the police departments in Minsk. She was given a month to leave Belarus voluntarily. The authorities annulled her residence permit, but she was able to restore it upon her return.
In addition, according to human rights defenders, after the start of a full-scale war on the territory of Ukraine, several Ukrainians who had lived in Belarus for a long time began to be persecuted by the Belarusian authorities.
It is known that one of the detainees, after serving an arrest for an “extremist repost”, was called to the CMD, where he was informed that his residence permit was being annulled and he needed to leave Belarus by a specified date in three weeks. Because of the ongoing war in Ukraine, he was allowed to leave for any neighboring country. However, the man was instructed to call a specific number immediately to confirm that he had finally left Belarus. In addition, he was banned from entering Belarus for five years.