Refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

Report

Doc. 7829

15 May 1997

Rapporteur: Mr Vadim FILIMONOV, Russia, Group of the Unified European Left


 

Summary

 

It is estimated that nine million people have moved within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) since 1989, most of them involuntarily. This situation has had various causes: economic, social and ecological problems, armed conflicts, violent nationalism, violations of human and minority rights, insecurity and so on. These movements have very serious humanitarian consequences and could also affect stability and peace in the region.

 

The Assembly considers that the Council of Europe has an important role to play both in guaranteeing observance of the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons in the CIS countries _ at least those which are members of the Council of Europe or have applied to join _ and in helping to remove the causes of displacement. Accordingly, the Assembly makes recommendations to the CIS European countries concerning the protection of the refugees', asylum-seekers' and displaced people's rights and calls on the Committee of Ministers to monitor closely the observance of these rights. Furthermore, it invites the member states to contribute generously to the funding of assistance programmes for these countries and the Committee of Ministers to launch specific programmes in this field.

 

I. Draft recommendation

 

1.Population movements of a size and complexity unprecedented since the second world war have resulted in the displacement -mostly involuntary- of some nine million people in the CIS region since the end of the 1980s.

 

2.These movements have had various causes, including economic, social and ecological problems, armed conflicts, manifestations of violent nationalism, human and minority rights violations and a general climate of insecurity and ethnic tension.

 

3.In addition to the serious humanitarian consequences for the victims, these displacements are such as to affect stability, security and peace not only in Europe but also in central Asia.

 

4.Of the twelve member states of the CIS, three have joined the Council of Europe and have therefore accepted specific human rights obligations, and four others have applied to join, thereby showing their desire to uphold its standards and principles.

 

5.Consequently, the Council of Europe, and in particular the application of its legal instruments, have an important role to play both in guaranteeing observance of the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons, and in helping to remove the causes of displacement in the region.

 

6.The Council of Europe must be particularly vigilant with regard to observance of the human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons, who are in a more precarious position than the rest of the population and are thus more vulnerable to human rights violations.

 

7.The Council of Europe, while monitoring the situation and calling for remedies, must also assist the states concerned, particularly as certain violations may stem from the lack of a tradition of accepting refugees in the CIS and the difficult economic and social situation of the countries in question.

 

8.The Assembly recognises the important contribution of the "Regional conference on refugees, displaced persons, other forms of involuntary displacement and repatriation in the CIS", held in Geneva in May 1996, which provided the opportunity to explore the main problems of displacement in the region and devise an action programme to remedy them. However, the conference is only the starting point of a process whose aim should be the implementation of specific co-operation and assistance programmes.

 

9.Consequently, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

  1. to ratify the Council of Europe's European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as soon as possible;

  2. to sign and ratify the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages as soon as possible;

a. to observe strictly the fundamental principles of international law concerning the protection of the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons and, in particular:

  1. to observe the principle of non-refoulement;

  2. to respect the right of freedom of movement and freedom to choose one's place of residence in one's own country and to remove legislative and administrative barriers to freedom to take up residence, in particular the registration system known as propiska;

  3. to ensure the de jure and de facto observance of the principle of non-discrimination in general and with regard to refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons in particular;

b.to ratify, without reservation, the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, if they have not already done so;

c.to bring their legislation and administrative practices into line with this convention and protocol and to put in place the necessary administrative structures to meet the obligations deriving from these texts;

d.to ensure the application of multilateral and bilateral agreements between CIS states concerning refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons;

e.to ensure strict compliance by local and regional authorities with legislation concerning refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons and, in particular, to ensure that administrative measures comply with constitutional instruments and laws;

f.to ensure that refugees and displaced persons have access to the labour market, health care, education, housing and social security benefits;

g.to join the Council of Europe's Social Development Fund as soon as possible so as to make full use of its resources to improve the situation of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons on their territory;

h. to set up, in co-operation with the relevant international organisations, repatriation programmes for illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers whose asylum applications have been rejected;

 

 

II. Explanatory memorandum by Mr FILIMONOV

 

1. Introduction

 

1.Since the Soviet Union split up into fifteen independent states, twelve of which(1) joined together to form the CIS, population movements of a size and complexity unprecedented since the second world war have occurred in the region.

 

2.The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that, since 1989, some 9 million people have moved (most of them involuntarily) within the CIS. Movement has involved various categories: people displaced within their own countries, those returning to their countries of origin, those fleeing from one CIS country to another, asylum-seekers from countries outside the CIS (either wishing to remain in a CIS country or in transit to another asylum country), once deported peoples now returning to their home areas, and so on. This diversity of cases makes protection and assistance very difficult.

 

3.Population movement has had various causes, including violation of human rights and humanitarian law, ethnic tension and conflict, manifestations of violent nationalism, discrimination against minorities, a general climate of insecurity and social, economic and environmental problems.

 

4.In addition to the humanitarian aspects, the population displacements could seriously affect stability, security and peace not only in Europe but also in central Asia, and consequently there has to be a co-ordinated response from countries in the region and the international community.

 

5.The present report results from the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography's concern with migratory flows and refugee movements in central and eastern Europe generally. The committee has already presented a series of reports in this field, including those on population movements between states of the former Soviet Union (Doc. 6739), on the situation of the German ethnic minority in the former Soviet Union (Doc. 7172), on refugees and asylum-seekers in central and eastern Europe (Doc. 7368), on the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons in Armenia and Azerbaijan (Doc. 7250) and on the humanitarian situation of displaced persons in Georgia (Doc. 7629). The committee is also preparing a report on displaced persons in the northern Caucasus (Ingushetia and North Ossetia) as well as reports on refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia.

 

2. The main movements of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons in the CIS(2)

1.Flight from armed conflict

 

6.The total number of people displaced by armed conflicts in the CIS is put at over 3.5 million. The main regions affected are detailed below.

 

a.The Caucasus

 

i.Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh

7.The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (a part of Azerbaijan whose ethnic Armenian population is by far the majority population) and resulting occupation of around 20% of Azerbaijan's territory by the Armenians have caused 228 240 Azerbaijanis to flee from Armenia to Azerbaijan and brought about the forced displacement of a further 630 000 Azerbaijanis within their own country.

 

8.The attacks on Armenians at Sumgait (in February 1988) and Baku (in January 1990) caused some 350 000 Armenians to flee Azerbaijan and seek refuge in Armenia.

 

ii.South Ossetia (Georgia)

9.In 1989 the South Ossetian independence movement's calls for extensive autonomy, not excluding independence, triggered hostilities with the ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia. Ossetians living in other parts of Georgia suffered retaliatory attacks. As a result, between 20 000 and 40 000 ethnic Georgians fled South Ossetia and approximately 30 000 Ossets (100 000 according to the Ossetian authorities) moved from South Ossetia to North Ossetia (Russian Federation).

 

iii.Abkhazia (Georgia)

10.Another independence struggle was the cause of the conflict which broke out in Abkhazia in 1992, between the Georgian Government and Abkhaz separatists. It resulted in around 250 000 ethnic Georgians fleeing to areas controlled by the Georgian Government (there are currently 70 000 of them in the capital, Tbilisi). Some 6 000 Abkhazians fled Georgia and took refuge in Armenia (2 000 of them have since gone back). Over 100 000 people, including ethnic Russians, have left the region and gone to the Russian Federation.

 

iv.North Ossetia (Russian Federation)

11.In October 1992 armed conflict in the Prigorodnyi area of North Ossetia between Ingush and Ossets caused between 42 000 and 75 000 people to flee, mainly to the Ingush Republic (Russian Federation) but also to other neighbouring Russian areas, in particular around Krasnodar and Stavropol. Most of them have still not returned home.

 

v.Chechnya (Russian Federation)

12.On the outbreak of military operations in Chechnya, 161 000 people fled to the Ingush Republic and 99 500 to Dagestan, while 36 000 people were displaced within Chechnya and thousands of others scattered to neighbouring areas including the Krasnodar and Stavropol districts. Thirty thousand Chechens sought asylum in Kazakhstan, where many of them have relatives (many Chechens were deported to Kazakhstan in Stalin's time).

 

b.Tadjikistan

 

13.In 1992 a civil war, waged against a background of ethnic and religious differences, between the Tadjik Government and the opposition parties displaced some 700 000 people, mostly inside the country. A small proportion of them fled to other CIS countries and northern Afghanistan.

 

14.According to the Tadjik Government, most of the displaced have returned home as a result of the cease-fire brought about by the Tehran Agreement. Some human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch/Helsinki report oppression of and discrimination against some of those who have returned home.

 

c.Moldova

 

15.Some 100 000 people were displaced by the conflict in the Dniestr area. Except for around 6% of them (872 families) they have now all returned home.

 

2.Voluntary and forced repatriation

 

16.Millions of people in the CIS resettle, or are forced to resettle, in a country other than the one they were living in when the Soviet Union broke up. The country of resettlement is usually the one whose nationality they have, or from which they originate, or where their ethnic group is the majority one. The repatriation may be for economic, social or personal reasons or may arise from human-rights violations of various kinds. Again, minority groups may feel isolated in the new states, may fear for their security, and may be placed at a disadvantage by new legislation on matters such as language or nationality.

 

17.In 1991 the total number of people living outside their republic or autonomous region of origin came to between 54 and 65 million (a fifth of the population of the former USSR). Of these, the expatriate Russian community came to around 25 million (17.4% of the total Russian population). Nearly 7 million Ukrainians and over 2 million Belarusians were living outside the republic of origin. So far approximately 3 million of these expatriates have returned (some 2 million Russians, over half a million Ukrainians and nearly 200 000 Belarusians). Population movements are not confined to the Slav population. The Kazakh Government, for example, estimates that since 1991 around 130 000 ethnic Kazakhs have returned to Kazakhstan, mostly from countries outside the CIS (in particular Mongolia, but also Iran and Turkey). Nevertheless, it should be understood that the figures quoted in this paragraph comprise different groups of people, each having their own characteristics and reasons to move.

 

3.Asylum-seekers from countries outside the CIS

 

18.Because of its geographical position and the less stringent checks at external borders, the CIS has had growing numbers of people arriving from Asia and Africa, whether intending to settle in the CIS or in transit to other countries, in western Europe particularly. These numbers include people fulfilling the refugee criteria laid down in the 1951 Geneva Convention, people fleeing conflicts or situations of generalised violence and insecurity, and economic migrants.

 

19.Precise figures are hard to come by. In the CIS countries the UNHCR has registered 68 000 asylum-seekers from countries outside the CIS, in particular Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Ethiopia, Angola and Za�re. However, the real figures are very likely to be much higher. According to a report on human rights observance and the citizen by the human rights commission advising the President of the Russian Federation, the number of asylum-seekers in Russia from non-CIS countries comes to around 500 000, of whom some 46 000 have been registered by UNHCR. The Federal Migration Service had given refugee status to only seventy of them by January 1997.

 

4.Persons displaced by environmental disaster

 

20.A great many parts of the CIS have pollution levels that are a threat to human life. The main population displacements have been caused by three major environmental disasters: Chernobyl (Ukraine), the Aral Sea and Semipalatinsk (Kazakhstan).

 

21.The explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power station forced at least 375 000 people in three countries (Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation) to leave their homes. Thirty-five thousand square kilometres of the Aral Sea have already dried out into saline and polluted land, and this has resulted in displacements of approximately 100 000 people in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Radiation from nuclear testing at Semipalatinsk has displaced around 160 000 people in Kazakhstan and Russia.

 

5.    Return of deported peoples

 

22.To complete the picture, we should also mention the situation regarding formerly deported peoples. Between 1936 and 1952 over three million people were deported to Siberia and central Asia. Twenty or so population groups were affected, including 366 000 Germans in the Volga region, 183 000 Tatars in the Crimea and 200 000 Meskhets. Even though some have since returned to their home territories _ about half the present population of Crimean Tatars, for example (around 250 000 people) _ others are still scattered throughout the CIS, in particular in the five central Asian republics. In the Russian Federation, the legal basis for the return is the 1991 law "on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples". Subsequently, some twenty legal instruments have been adopted with a view to ensuring the implementation of this law. In this field, Russia took the lead and did not wait for the ratification of the 1992 CIS agreement on this matter (see paragraph 39).

 

 

3. Regional conference on refugees, displaced persons, other forms of involuntary displacement and repatriation in the CIS

 

23.Aware of the extent of the problems posed by such displacements, the Russian Federation put forward a proposal to the General Assembly of the United Nations for a conference to identify regional solutions with support from the international community. In response, in Resolution 49/174 of 24 February 1995, the General Assembly asked the UNHCR to hold such a conference. After the preparatory meetings, which the Council of Europe attended, the conference was held in Geneva on 30 and 31 May 1996 under the auspices of the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) (through its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)). In addition to these three organisations, the conference was attended by eight-seven states (including twelve CIS countries), twenty-seven international organisations and seventy-seven non-governmental organisations. The Council of Europe's intergovernmental sector and the Parliamentary Assembly were also represented (the rapporteur was the Assembly's representative).

 

24.The conference set itself three aims: to provide the CIS countries with a forum for discussing displacement problems in humanitarian rather than political terms; to consider population movement in the CIS and identify the main problems; and to devise a coherent strategy for enabling the CIS countries to cope with population movement and avert further massive displacements.

 

25.The report on the outcome of the conference, submitted to the forty-seventh session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, in August 1996, concluded that these aims had been achieved. The conference adopted an action programme _ a non-binding document for the CIS countries, setting out the principles of international law applying in the region (including those in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities) and explaining the institutional and operational framework of the action which needed taking.

 

26.Those who were expecting the conference to produce positive solutions in the form of undertakings and detailed programmes, complete with figures, were disappointed: specific projects are to be put forward and their financing agreed in a follow-up to the conference. Two papers were presented to the conference (the first setting out a strategy for joint UNHCR-IOM operations in the CIS for the period 1996 to 2000, the other the priorities for the CIS countries as a basis for future action.

 

27.A joint unit for following up the conference, composed of the office of the UNHCR, IOM and OSCE/ODIHR was set up to oversee implementation of the action programme. In addition, a steering group, composed of representatives of participant states and international organisations, will be meeting regularly to consider progress reports from the unit. The Council of Europe is represented in the steering group, which has already begun work.

 

4. Basic guarantees needed by refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons

 

28.Those who seek refuge in a foreign country or who are displaced within their own country are in a more precarious position than the rest of the population. Their legal status is liable to be uncertain, they often require emergency aid to meet immediate needs, and they need settling-in help in their new place of residence.

 

29.Because of the wide variety of groups involved, it will often be necessary to make special arrangements for each group. However, it is essential that, both in their legislation and practice, the CIS countries apply a number of basic principles recognised by international law. I have identified three, based on the following international legal instruments: the European Convention on Human Rights and the protocols to it; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1966 United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol to it (hereinafter referred to as the "Geneva Convention"); the 1984 European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

 

1.Protection against return ("refoulement")

 

30.The prohibition on return is recognised by quite a few international treaties. Article 33, paragraph 1 of the Geneva Convention ("No Contracting State shall expel or return (refouler) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion") sets the minimum standard in refugee law and is part of customary international law. There is a general prohibition deriving from Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights on expelling anyone who is in serious danger of being subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

 

31.Similarly the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) prohibits return, expulsion or extradition of any person to a third state when there is serious reason to believe that he or she risks being subjected to torture there.

 

2.    The right to freedom of movement and freedom to choose one's place of residence in one's own country

 

32.Under Article 12 of the 1966 United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, everyone lawfully within the territory of a state has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence, and that right can only be restricted in the cases specified in that article.(3) Similarly, Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention on Human

 

Rights provides that everyone lawfully within the territory of a state has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.

 

3.    Prohibition on all discrimination

 

33.Refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons are especially vulnerable to discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, language, religion or national or ethnic origin. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights states: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights" and this principle was developed in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits discrimination as regards enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention (unfortunately this clause is secondary to the other articles in the Convention and its scope does not extend to matters not covered by the Convention).

 

5. Priority fields of action

 

34.The following sections will deal with what I see as the main problems and shortcomings, and the ones most urgently requiring attention, as regards protection of refugees, asylum-seekers, displaced persons and other persons in need of protection. Unlike other problems which are really of a technical or administrative nature, they require vigorous and determined political action.

 

1.A legislative framework

 

35.The CIS countries have no great tradition of receiving refugees. National policy and legislation on refugees are still being worked out and at this stage there are a host of ad hoc practices. Even countries which have acceded to international, bilateral or multilateral treaties have not always given effect to them in domestic law. In states which have refused to enter into international commitments, legislation is often non-existent or contrary to international law.

 

a.Geneva Convention

36.So far, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Tadjikistan have signed the Geneva Convention, which is the basic international instrument on refugee protection. The other countries have not yet done so, on the basis, in particular, that their difficult economic and social circumstances do not allow them to take on the international obligations involved and because they are afraid of becoming "buffer-zones" liable to have asylum-seekers returned to them. The action programme adopted in Geneva confines itself to encouraging states which have not yet done so to accede to the convention and the protocol.

 

37.The personal view of the rapporteur is that it is essential that Council of Europe states and states wishing to join the Council of Europe sign and ratify the Geneva Convention as soon as possible: observance of refugees' rights is inherent in general observance of human rights, to which member states of the Council of Europe commit themselves when they join the Organisation.

 

b.Multilateral agreements between CIS countries

38.The CIS countries are endeavouring to co-ordinate their policies on refugees and forced migrants by means of regional agreements. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan concluded an agreement on assistance to refugees and forced migrants in September 1993 (it came into force in November 1994). The agreement applies to nationals of states parties who have been compelled to leave the territory of a state party and have been granted asylum in another state party. The definitions of refugee and forced migrant (for the purposes of the agreement, a refugee is not a national of the asylum country while a forced migrant is) are wider than in the Geneva Convention, including as they do flight from conflict.

 

39.Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tadjikistan have also signed regulations on an inter-state aid fund for refugees and forced migrants which became operational in February 1995. All the CIS countries except Azerbaijan and Georgia have also signed the 1992 agreement on reinstating the rights of deported individuals, national minorities or peoples.

 

40.Such regional agreements are undoubtedly a step forward in regional co-operation and need to be signed, ratified and implemented by all the CIS countries. Unfortunately the present information is that only a small proportion of the provisions in the agreements are being applied, which also seems to be the case of the bilateral agreements between the CIS countries, discussed below.

 

c.Bilateral agreements between CIS countries

41.The CIS countries have concluded various bilateral agreements. In addition to civil, economic and social guarantees for particular categories of displaced person, the agreements encompass readmission, exchange of information and other matters. Russia, for example, has concluded intergovernmental agreements on resettlement and protection of the rights of displaced persons with several CIS countries of which only those with Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan have been ratified.

 

42.Even though multilateral agreements must be the main instrument of regional co-operation, bilateral agreements are of great importance for tackling more specific matters concerning a limited number of countries. However, particular care needs to be taken so that their provisions are consistent with the basic principles of protection of refugees and asylum-seekers (this applies, for example, to readmission agreements).

 

43.As with regional multilateral agreements, it should be added, implementation of bilateral agreements is often very slow. The report of the human rights commission advising the President of the Russian Federation expressly states that such agreements are only being implemented minimally.

 

d.National legislation

44.It is essential that the CIS countries enact legislation on refugees applying to refugees from both CIS countries and elsewhere. In the absence of such legislation, asylum-seekers are often regarded as illegal migrants and treated accordingly _ that is, arrested and expelled. At present, Azerbaijan (1992), Belarus (1995), Moldova (1995), Russia (1991, 1993, 1995), Tadjikistan (1994) and Ukraine (1993) have specific legislation on the subject, but its implementation is limited. The Geneva action programme lays down a requirement that states not parties to the Geneva Convention enact legislation on refugees (or adapt existing legislation) in line with universally accepted principles and protection standards.

 

45.Implementation measures must apply the legislation, not make it more difficult, or even impossible, to apply. Such measures often restrict refugees' rights rather than make it easier to exercise them. Some areas or towns adopt highly restrictive decrees, in particular regarding refugees of non-Russian origin, lay down strict quotas, and so on.

 

46.Another danger to avoid is the proliferation of legal instruments whose provisions are conflicting since the resultant obscurities only make the people concerned even more vulnerable. In July 1995, for example, Russia, after passing fairly generous laws on refugees and forced migrants, introduced, by presidential decree, a new procedure on applicants for political asylum which is far more restrictive than the one laid down in the legislation. Even though the decree was supposed to be confined in scope to a small category of persons qualifying for "political asylum", some authorities appear to be using it as the sole instrument on asylum. Furthermore, a new law on refugees is currently in preparation in the State Duma of the Russian Federation and several provisions contained in the draft law are not in conformity with international refugee law and principles defended by this report (for example, lack of sufficient safeguards to guarantee access to a fair refugee status determination procedure, no suspensive effect of appeal against decisions taken at the border and, lack of safeguards to prevent abuse of detention of asylum-seekers.

 

2.Fair administrative procedure

 

47.In the absence of a form of administrative machinery for implementing it, any legislation is largely devoid of practical effect and remains a dead letter. Equally, legislation is often quite simply ignored by the various levels of national administration, often with the complicity of central bodies.

 

48.Most CIS countries have set up high-level government bodies -whether independent bodies or bodies coming under a ministry- on matters relating to refugees and asylum-seeker. On the other hand, the setting up of local offices for receiving asylum requests, whether inside the country or at the border, is much slower. Russia is one of the countries whose provision in this area is most advanced. The Federal Migration Service (FMS) was set up in June 1992 and has 116 regional offices as well as offices in Armenia, Tadjikistan and Turkmenistan. It carries on its work in collaboration with other federal and regional executive bodies. Nevertheless, the FMS regional offices are often incorporated in the local and regional authorities' structure and tend to implement the latter's policies which are sometimes incompatible with federal legislation and policy.

 

49.Often it is physically impossible for an asylum-seeker to lodge an asylum application because he or she cannot find any officials who will agree to receive the application and forward it to the competent authorities. Similarly there is often a refusal to register an application on the pretext that papers or attestations are missing, even though there is no legal requirement to submit them. All persons concerned must therefore be enabled to register their asylum request without discrimination. There are also some categories who are refused refugee status (Afghans in Russia, for example). Similarly there are often refusals to register asylum requests from people of non-European origin, who may then be arbitrarily detained and deported.

 

50.Inadequate training of staff dealing with refugees and asylum-seekers is another major problem. The staff at border checkpoints, who are usually the first officials an asylum-seeker will approach, must be familiar with refugees' rights and human rights generally. The Parliamentary Assembly's recent Recommendation 1309 (1996) on the training of officials receiving asylum-seekers at border points, adopted on 7 November 1996, should be consulted as an authoritative treatment of the subject.

 

51.Among other shortcomings which it is absolutely indispensable to remedy is the authorities' reluctance to issue papers to refugees and displaced persons, making it virtually impossible for them to find accommodation or employment, or to obtain social benefits, medical care, schooling, and so on.

 

3.    Removing obstacles to freedom to take up residence

 

52.The main obstacle seriously undermining the safeguards which legislation affords to refugees and displaced persons is the propiska (residents-permit) system. The propiska is issued at the discretion of the local authorities and the system, which the USSR introduced in 1932, is still widely used in the CIS countries. Without a propiska the individual has no economic or social rights. More serious still, to obtain refugee status you must first have the propiska (virtually impossible for an asylum-seeker to obtain), and this creates a vicious circle.

 

53.In the Russian Federation the propiska system was formally abolished in June 1993 and replaced by a system of merely "notifying" the authorities of the place of residence. Nevertheless, the Russian government order of 17 July 1995 on registration at places of residence ("permanent propiska") and at places of stay ("temporary propiska") is a step towards the re-establishment of the old system. Further, some municipalities still use the propiska, not least the City of Moscow itself, where only those who have close relations in the city are allowed to take up residence. The local authorities concerned say they are merely protecting the rights of the local community from influxes of new arrivals who allegedly threaten economic stability (particularly wage levels), cause an increase in crime, place too much strain on infrastructure, and so on. About thirty municipalities are said to continue to restrict freedom of residence.

 

54.In Section 4 of this report we showed that restrictions on freedom to take up residence are contrary to the principles of international law. The system must be abolished in CIS countries where it continues to exist in all legality, and steps need to be taken to ensure that it is not still being applied in countries which have supposedly legally abolished it.

 

4.    Material assistance to refugees and displaced persons

 

55.The large numbers of refugees and displaced persons in the CIS countries, and the difficult economic situation there, mean both that the needs in terms of material assistance are extremely large and that they far exceed the ability of those countries to meet them.

 

Hence the necessity of international support from states, international organisations, non-governmental organisations and other agencies.

 

56.Hundreds of thousands of victims of armed conflict or forced displacement caused by other occurrences need emergency aid, including the requirements for mere subsistence (food, water, accommodation, sanitation, basic medicines, etc). Help is also necessary for meeting the longer-term needs of the displaced, in particular for building housing and providing basic infrastructures.

 

57.I call on the Council of Europe member states to play their part and respond generously to UNHCR and IOM appeals for funding for their programmes of assistance to the CIS countries.

 

5.    Repatriation of illegal migrants and asylum-seekers whose asylum requests are refused

 

58.Finally, attention needs to be drawn to the predicament of those whose asylum requests are refused and of illegal immigrants "trapped" in a CIS country, being unable either to integrate and achieve a decent standard of living or, for lack of means, to return to the country of origin. Such people are marginalised and extremely vulnerable and can easily fall into crime, prostitution, etc. The Parliamentary Assembly debated this specific question in April 1994, adopting Recommendation 1237 (1994) on the situation of asylum-seekers whose asylum applications have been rejected, which sets out principles with which member states' legislation and practice should comply.

 

59.Everyone's right to enter his or her own country is a basic principle which must be upheld. As regards the material possibility of return, which often does not exist because countries and individuals lack the necessary resources, Council of Europe member states are asked to financially assist the efforts of international organisations, particularly the IOM, which, in collaboration with the authorities of the CIS countries, has set up repatriation programmes.

 

6. The Council of Europe's role

 

60.Of the twelve CIS countries, Russia, Ukraine and Moldova are Council of Europe members, while Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Belarus have applied for membership and have special guest status with the Parliamentary Assembly(4). The former Soviet Republics in central Asia cannot join the Council of Europe and therefore cannot accede to closed Council of Europe conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights. However, in view of their close relations with some Council of Europe member states, in particular Russia and Turkey, their de facto acceptance of Council of Europe principles, including those applying to refugees', asylum-seekers' and displaced persons' rights, could assist co-operation in the CIS region.

 

61.The Geneva Conference called on the relevant international organisations to press on with drawing up and implementing programmes for tackling the problems identified in the action programme. As a large proportion of those problems come under the heading of observance of human rights, Council of Europe legal instruments and action have a key role to play, particularly in the following areas.

 

1.    Council of Europe conventions and other instruments

 

62.Section 4 of this report showed the importance of the safeguards which the European Convention on Human Rights and the protocols to it afford to refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons. With the gradual enlargement of the Council of Europe, it is to be hoped that most of the CIS will come within the Convention's scope.

 

63.Since a large percentage of forced displacements directly result from non-observance of minorities' rights, there are another two Council of Europe conventions which are of major importance _ the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages (which none of the European CIS countries has yet signed) and the Council of Europe's European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (so far signed by Moldova, Russia and Ukraine). Gradual accession to those conventions by all the European CIS countries would help to remove the causes of displacement.

 

64.Council of Europe Committee of Ministers' recommendations on refugees and asylum, though not legally binding, provide authoritative guidance for the CIS countries which are Council of Europe members and for countries in the region generally. The most recent of them, Recommendation No. R (94) 5, lays down guidelines to inspire practices of the member states of the Council of Europe concerning the arrival of asylum-seekers at European airports (the present report has not gone into that particular question, as a second report on the subject is being prepared by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography). Of the older recommendations, which are nonetheless still relevant to the CIS countries, mention should be made of Recommendation No. R (84) 21 on acquisition by refugees of the receiving country's nationality and Recommendation No. R (81) 16 on the harmonisation of national procedures relating to asylum.

 

65.This report has repeatedly referred to Parliamentary Assembly reports. Attention should particularly be drawn to Recommendation 1236 (1994) on the right of asylum and Recommendation 1278 (1995) on refugees and asylum-seekers in central and eastern Europe.

 

2.    Assistance in the drafting of national legislation

 

66.Although advice on legislation concerning refugees is a matter for the UNHCR, the Council of Europe should continue and step up its assistance in the drafting of legislation on nationality in order to help tackle the very difficult circumstances of nationals of the former Soviet Union who have left their country of origin and taken up residence in another country.

 

67.Participation by representatives of CIS Council of Europe members in Council of Europe expert committees, in particular the Ad hoc Committee of Experts on Legal Aspects of Territorial Asylum, Refugees and Stateless Persons (CAHAR), is another excellent means of helping find European answers to these problems.

 

3.Monitoring of member states' compliance with their undertakings

 

68.A number of problems concerning refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons relate directly to the question of compliance with undertakings that CIS Council of Europe members gave when they joined the Organisation. It is therefore essential that, as part of monitoring member states' compliance with their undertakings in accordance with Order No. 508 (1995), the Parliamentary Assembly pay particular attention to compliance with those provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols which are relevant to refugees and asylum-seekers, such as the provisions on non-return and freedom to take up residence.

 

4.The Council of Europe Social Development Fund

 

69.Aid to refugees and migrants is one of the priority objectives of the Social Development Fund, which is a Council of Europe financial instrument. None of the CIS countries has yet joined the fund, which could financially support their projects to assist refugees and displaced persons. The fund has a selective fiduciary account allowing it to lend at low rates of interest to projects which match its priority objectives in poorer parts of countries with few financial resources, particularly in central and eastern Europe. The rapporteur would therefore urge the European CIS countries to join the fund as soon as possible.

 

70.In this connection the fact that the fund attended the first meeting of the steering group on following up the Geneva Conference is to be welcomed, and its representatives expressed interest in collaborating with the UNHCR and IOM in carrying through programmes in the CIS.

 

7. Conclusions

 

71.The CIS countries, which are in a difficult period of transition to democratic regimes based on the market economy, have large population movements to contend with. The present report has drawn attention to failures to observe refugees', asylum-seekers' and displaced persons' rights in all the CIS countries. The countries concerned tend to put these failures down to difficult social and economic circumstances, lack of resources and inexperience in these matters.

 

72.While those difficulties undoubtedly exist, they are no justification for non-observance, particularly in the countries which are Council of Europe member states and those which have expressed interest in joining the Council of Europe. However, highlighting shortcomings and criticising them entails an obligation on our part to help those countries remedy them. To that end the Council of Europe, its member states and the relevant international organisations need to join forces, each according to its responsibilities and means. The rapporteur hopes that the proposals in this report will help achieve that objective.

 


Reporting committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.

Origin: Doc. 7497 and Reference No. 2058 of 20 March 1996.

Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee on 24 April 1997.

Members of the committee: Mrs Aguiar (Chairperson), MM. Iwinski, Junghanns, Korakas (Vice-Chairmen), A�ba (Alternate: Sungur), Mrs Aguilar, MM. Akselsen, Amoruso (Alternate: Brunetti), Andres, �rnason, Mrs Arnold, MM. Beaufays, Billing, Bogomolov (Alternate: Volodin), Van den Bos, Branger, Mrs Brasseur, MM. Brennan, Caceres, Cardona, Christodoulides, Chyzh, Clerfayt, Din�er, Ehrmann, Mrs Fehr, MM. Filimonov, Fuhrmann (Alternate: Mrs Karlsson), Mrs Garajov�, MM. Godo, Gotzev, Gross, Sir John Hunt, Mrs Johansson, MM. Kalus, Karas, Lord Kirkhill (Alternate: Lord Dundee), Mr Kukk, Mrs Kusnere, MM. Laakso, Lauricella, Laurinkus, Lazarescu, Leitner, Liapis, Loutfi, Lu�s, M�sz�ros, Micheloyiannis, Nogalo (Alternate: Mrs Busic), Mrs Plechat�, MM. Rakhansky, Sincai, Skolc, Solonari, Mrs Soutendijk-van Appeldoorn, Mr Vangelov.

N.B.The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.


 

 

See 19th Sitting, 24 June 1997 (adoption of the draft recommendation as amended) and Recommendation 1334.

 

Report on refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

AMENDMENT No. 1(5)

Doc. 7829

23 June 1997

presented by Mr Atkinson, Sir Anthony Durant, Lord Newall, Mrs Ragnarsd�ttir, MM. Hagard, Szak�l, Billing, Telgmaa,

Martelli, Cusimano, Olrich, Toshev, Tanik, Steolea and Sir John Hunt


 

In the draft recommendation, paragraph 9, after the words "Consequently, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:", add the following words:

"in the spirit of the historic Agreement on Co-operation between the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the InterParliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States, signed on 9 June 1997:".

 

 


 

 

Report on refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

AMENDMENT No. 2(6)

Doc. 7829

23 June 1997

presented by MM. Aushev, Zhebrovsky and Ulbashev


 

In the draft recommendation, at the end of sub-paragraph 9.v.d., add the words:

"and to secure the return of the refugees and internally displaced persons to the post-conflict zones. In particular, Ingush people to the Prigorodny region of North Ossetia, Georgian refugees to Abkhasia, Meskhetian Turks to Georgia, South-Ossetian refugees back to Georgia, and so on;".

 

 


Note: 1 Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Russian Federation, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.


Note: 2 The figures in this report are derived mainly from the statistics published on the occasion of the regional conference on refugees, displaced persons, other forms of involuntary displacement and repatriation in the CIS (30 and 31 May 1996, Geneva). Given the absence of reliable statistics, they are often only estimates.


Note: 3 Article 12 reads: "1. Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence. 2. Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own. 3. The above-mentioned rights shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognised in the present Covenant".


Note: 4 The special guest status of Belarus was suspended by the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly on 13 January 1997.


Note: 5 See 19th Sitting, 24 June 1997 (adoption of the amendment).


Note: 6 See 19th sitting, 24 June 1997 (adoption of the amendment as amended orally).