FECL 57 (March 1999):

CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: DIFFICULT ADAPTATION TO SCHENGEN

Central and Eastern European countries seeking membership in the Union are tightening border controls and concluding bilateral agreements on the fight against "illegal immigration" and anti-crime cooperation. Refugees and immigrants on their way to the West are the first victims of these hectic activities aimed at demonstrating Schengen maturity.

Portrayed under headlines such as "Anti-Mafia Cooperation" and "Crime-Fighting" accords, several areas have seen enhanced cross border police operations targeting the movement of "illegal migrants". While both of the headlines in question refer to agreements by Ukraine (with the other parties respectively being Slovakia and Macedonia), this appears to be part of a broader trend.

In February, Slovak Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner met with Viktor Bannych, head of Ukraine's State Committee for Border Protection, and "discussed the renewal of former bilateral cooperation in border protection". Pittner's objective was stated as developing the capability for "prompt interventions" with the proposed financing of this effort through the EU's "Phare" programme. Pittner noted that the "number of illegal migrants penetrating Slovakia from Ukraine has doubled recently".

Of particular significance, given this stated cross border movement and its implications as regards the Schengen agreement, Pittner noted he had "not discussed the possible introduction of visa requirements for Ukrainians", but that he expected Ukraine to "be more active in guarding its borders".

The EU is reported to have welcomed the Slovak cabinet change which spawned Pittner's appointment, and Pittner himself took the opportunity of his Kiev visit to reiterate that Slovakia wants to meet conditions for EU membership. Ukraine wishes EU membership as well.

The same month, Ukrainian Interior Minister Kravchenko, and Pavle Trajanov, his Macedonian counterpart, signed an agreement on cooperation between the law enforcement agencies of the two countries. The agreement was heralded as "the first step towards wide-scale cooperation", and was stated to be explicitly "aimed at implementing control over the so-called Balkan route, through which drugs are smuggled into Ukraine". Further aims include joint action on car theft and international prostitution. However, rather than quote the number of stolen cars found, wanted criminals arrested, drugs intercepted, or guns confiscated, governmental statements repeatedly highlight nothing but numbers of "illegal border crossings" and "illegal migrants".

 

Czech dilemma

The Czech Republic has recently found itself in something of a dilemma due to demands that meeting requirements for EU membership have placed upon it. A late January report details how the Czech government "will not hurry to introduce visas for Russian citizens". Czech Deputy Prime Minister Egon Lansky noted that the introduction of visas for Russians would mean that Russia would "certainly come up with some countermeasures which will not be pleasant". Further, Mr. Lansky (who has responsibility for security and foreign affairs) voiced doubts that issuing visas would solve problems with the Russian mafia, drug smuggling, or refugees. However, the Czechs must introduce visas for several countries before being allowed to join the EU.

 

Continuing flow of refugees

In spite of tightened border controls, the flow of refugees on their way to Western Europe does not appear to have decreased. Recently, Czech police found a group of 53 refugees from Kosovo in the snow-covered forests of the White Carpathian mountains. Reportedly abandoned by their guide just past the Czech-Slovak border, the refugees told police that they had travelled by bus from Pristina, via Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia, before entering the Czech Republic. They were heading for Germany. Under an agreement between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the refugees will be returned to Slovakia. Just several days before, police had found another group of 25 refugees, this time from Afghanistan and Iraq, huddled in the snow in woods near Bozi Dar, close to the German border.

Similar conditions exist in Austria, despite icy temperatures and extremely tight border surveillance. A record number of refugees "were arrested" in January, with 1,938 "illegal immigrants" being caught.

The end of February saw Ukrainian border guards detaining 13 Turkish nationals who had tried to smuggle themselves into Poland in the false compartment of a truck. A spokesman for the border guards said 1,500 people have so far been "detained" through mid-February of this year.

 

Conflict of interests in Poland

Poland seems to be in less of a hurry to clamp down on "illegal immigrants". Aliens working illegally in Poland and their employers can feel relatively safe. It is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 aliens are working illegally there. Regulation of alien employment is pursued by the NIK (Supreme Chamber of Audit), which is demanding more powers for inspectors and tighter regulations on the hiring of aliens. However, with the wide-open market economy prevailing in most areas, the existing atmosphere is one where regulation appears most geared to assuring the integrity of business transactions, rather than concerning itself with exactly how the item transacted was made. Vague regulations, the very limited powers of those seeking to enforce them, and regulatory loopholes all serve to effectively illustrate this contention. For example, as per Executive Order of 30 June 1995 of the Council of Ministers, "inspectors must show inspection warrants specifying the name and exact address of the company inspected". This makes it impossible to inspect both unregistered companies and those which change their name. Typically, bazaars, construction sites, and farms are key areas of illegal employment. But regulations are so loosely worded that "whether an alien, as the head of a business which consists of himself alone, should or should not have a permit and approval for employment" is not clear to the NIK. Be that as it may, the National Labour Office's section for verifying the legality of employment no longer exists, having been closed on January 1.

 

Sources: UNIAN, Kiev, 21.2.99; Economist, 20.2.99; CTK Business News, 17.2.99, 22.1.99, 20.2.99; Rzeczpospolita, Warsaw, 13.2.99; Reuters, 19.2.99; Kurier (Austria), 22.2.99.