On 11 June 2017, Ukraine was granted visa-free regime with 30 EU/Schengen countries, provided on condition of keeping a number of requirements. Most of them are included to criteria of the mechanism of the visa-free regimes’ suspension adopted by the EU on early 2017 to ensure that visa exempt countries do not abuse the visa waiver, e.g. number of asylum seekers, irregular migrants, readmission cooperation, risks to public policy or the internal security of the EU member states. Special attention is paid to the sustainability of reforms reached under visa liberalization action plan.
Nine months after starting of visa waiver we still have no final data on most of the criteria, but preliminary numbers on asylum, refusals in entry and readmission say that there are no threats for EU from Ukraine in these regards. For example, according to EASO data, there were 2664 asylum seekers (both first-time and repeated) from Ukraine in EU-28 in March-May 2017 (three months before the start of the visa-free regime), and 2495 in October-December 2017. Situation stays stable.
Data on overstaying or detected irregular migrants is not accessible now. At the same time, current trends demonstrate that most probably there will not be any significant increase. Ukrainians travel to the EU mostly as law-abiding tourists, students and labour migrants.
When the EU Commission published its first Monitoring Report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism on December, 20 they came to the conclusion that “Overall, the visa liberalization benchmarks continue to be fulfilled”.
It is noteworthy that simultaneously with the report two interviews with ambassadors of Great Britain and France in Ukraine were published where the diplomats expressed concerns regarding the safety of Ukrainian identification documents. They referred to two widely known and significant cases.
Case 1. In June 2017, a man who positioned himself as Le Monde journalist was wounded when allegedly trying to assassinate Ukrainian combatants of Chechen origin Adam Osmayev and his wife Amina Okuyeva (she was reported to be killed later in October). “Journalist” is supposed to be a Russian criminal of Chechen origin known as Artur Denisultanov, Artur Kurmakayev or “Dingo”. After shooting in Kyiv a Ukrainian travel passport issued to the name of Ukrainian citizen Olexandr Dakar was found on the crime scene with “Dingo’s” photo. The whole story is complicated and contradictious but the fact of successful passport forgery is undoubted.
Case 2. In December 2017, the State Migration Service (SMS) reported about the detention of a National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) agent while “trying to bribe” First Deputy Head of the State Migration Service of Ukraine Dina Pimakhova. NABU reported that it was a coverage operation investigating a scheme of the unlawful legalization of other countries’ nationals who supposedly paid officials for getting Ukrainian citizenship. The SMS denied the accusations. The case is still investigated.
In both cases, the object of forgery was Ukrainian citizenship that potentially could be used to get free access to EU/Schengen area in the framework of the visa-free regime. Although these cases seem to be not crucial at the moment, the EU countries have reasonable concerns about safety system of Ukrainian documents.
Technically Ukrainian biometric travel passports are fully compliant with ICAO standards and they are not less safe than passports of the EU member citizens that can be forged as well as Ukrainian. Possible threats for Ukrainian documents’ security lay in the sphere of human dimension and governance – it is about security checks, interagency cooperation and, surely, corruption.
The situation clearly demonstrates the imperfections of an unfinished anti-corruption reform and lack of interagency cooperation leading to “holes” in document security system. Recently Ukrainian authorities have claimed intentions to back-check all the cases of granting Ukrainian citizenship since 1991 and to counteract corruption – at least on the local level. Also on March 21 legislative changes aimed to strengthen control over foreigners’ entry and stay were announced, including regulations of citizenship policy. Yet the will to changes is not always implemented properly in Ukraine.
This is why Ukrainian civil society needs to keep an eye on the mechanisms of getting citizenship. Like many times before, it should become a process pusher and watchdog of reforms, filling the gaps in relevant state policies and capabilities and keeping a balance between security and human rights. Only constant actualizing and reactualizing of this issue can result in significant changes and return the situation under control.
What should be done first? We believe that civil society and state authorities of Ukraine should join their efforts in exploring the problem – investigate the black “citizenship market”, to conduct a questionnaire among foreigners who had experience of legalization in Ukraine, to analyze current legislation, management regulations and the SMS practice, as well as relevant court decisions to find out and fix blind spots of policy and practice of granting Ukrainian citizenship. The EU, in this case, can be a third party contacting both sides and protecting the balance between them.
Pavlo Kravchuk, Iryna Sushko, Europe without Barriers
First published by Ukrainian Liaison Office in Brussels at blogactiv.eu