In the process of the East-West opening and the expansion of the E.E.C. eastwards intergovernmental relationships are taking place between the countries sharing borders with the Baltic Sea with the aim of strengthening their economic and security interests.
Due to the priority of harmonizing the asylum and refugee rights in Europe asylum seekers and refugees are being secluded from the countries bordering Germany in the east (Poland and the Czech Republic). They are also been secluded from the new E.E.C candidates (Poland and Belarus).
Due to the above reasons many refugees are forced to pay even more money to »flight organisers« or are compelled to use other dangerous routes, one of them is the Baltic Sea.
The main route at present is Belarus-Sweden, mostly used by Kurds and Afghanis. There are also less frequented routes to Germany like the small border route Poland-Germany which is more or less evasive routes for those who had failed over the land.
The security institutions of the states neighbouring the Baltic Sea are discussing the refugee problem under the aspects of »organised crime« and »illegal migration«. The immigration authorities of these states have developed Task-Forces with the common goal of refusing these people’s entrance, arresting them and finally deporting them.
In contrast to this stand the network and co-operation between the NGOs (non-governmental organisations), the churches and other refugee welfare organisations in these countries which are not yet developed enough.
For Germany fleeing over the sea is a new development which is increasing. The first »boat people« have already been brought to shore. The actual number of people who have lost their lives through this encounter remains unknown. Many times refugees are hidden in freight ships/containers and also in ferry boats. Some times they are brought in small fishing boats as singles or in large numbers. These refugees are dependent on those who bring them here. Sometimes they are forced into very narrow boats on the high sea or made to swim to shore.
The German Ministry of Interior stated on 20th of March 2000 that in 1999 349 people tried to enter the country illegally through the shores whereas in 1998 it was only 191.
The intention of the conference was to deal with aspects of international flight-migration in the Baltic Sea region, to discuss political deficiencies and to draw the attention of the public to the situation of the victims.
The conference will discuss differences between the governmental organs and the NGOs and the demands of NGOs and the refugee solidarity movement.
Demands are that the forcing of women into prostitution must be stopped. The fleeing from wars and persecution is classified by the governmental bodies as »illegal migration«. The loss of their life that these victims risk has to be fought upon.
The conference is to bring German and other involved groups, organisations and political participating institutions together as well as exchange ideas (e.g. refugee-councils from Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Hamburg, the group »Blind-Passengers« and others).
The conference aims on the network with refugee solidarity groups from countries neighbouring the Baltic Sea as well as coordinating projects to initiate more co-operative works. For this reason representatives from the refugee welfare organisations shall be invited where the refugees come from like the transit countries (Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland). In addition representatives from the destination countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Germany) will come.
Representatives from the police, migration officers and refugee lobby will be brought together to discuss with one another.
We are looking for interested individuals, groups and organisations in the Baltic Sea region who might be interested in these subjects or in particular aspects. We ask everyone who has information concerning subjects of the conference in November 2001 to contact us. Please contact us if you wish to work with us.
As a result of the E.U. expansion eastwards bi- and multilateral co-operation within the Baltic Sea area has been extended above all dedicated to economic and state security interests.
At the same time as a result of national tightening and European harmonization of the asylum legislation, the German national border (to Poland and Czech Republic) as well as the Eastern borders of the E.U.-candidates Poland and the Baltic States are being closed. In addition the Nordic countries joined the Schengen-Agreement in March 2001. The enlargement of the number of States, who ratified the Schengen-Agreement, from 10 to 15 at the moment brings an enlargement of the common EU-borders of 1400 km towards Russia and of about 4000 km border in the North- and Baltic-Sea.
The border protection structures of the countries in question have been connected and are developing a more and more effective co-operation in cases of rejection, deportation and internment of picked up refugees. The networking and co-operation between NGO’s assisting refugees in the Baltic Sea states on the other hand isn’t well enough developed yet. That is why the Refugee Council Schleswig-Holstein in co-operation with several NGOs and initiatives like the Commissioner on Refugee, Asylum- and Migration Matters of the Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein and Pro Asyl organized an international conference ”Baltic Sea as an Escape Route”. The aim of the conference was to stimulate such a networking and bring together persons from Germany , the Nordic Countries, Poland, the Baltic States and Russia who are involved in refugee aid on a voluntary or professional basis.
From 16th to 18th of November 2001 more than 100 participants from all countries bordering the Baltic Sea discussed in Bad Segeberg, Germany, the development of migration in the concerned region. The representatives of UNHCR and of NGOs from the Baltic States and Poland explained that the expansion eastwards by the EU has lead in the candidate countries to the introduction of standards governing asylum which have been brought into conformity with EU norms. On the other hand there is a lack of measures taken for integration and acceptation of migrants and refugees. Furthermore representatives of refugee aid organizations of the Baltic States stressed that the increase in controls at the peripheral borders of what will be the future EU should not bring about a situation in which asylum seekers are denied access to protection from persecution and emergency. The responsibilities for asylum seekers should be fairly distributed, and should not be allowed to occur at the cost of the EU candidate states.
The participants of the conference declared that It is the task of the NGOs to follow critically the process of Eu-expansion and harmonizing the asylum-legislation, and to oppose it taking place at the expense of laws containing humanitarian standards relating to asylum seekers.
In particular there is a need for action especially in the fields of access to asylum proceedings, the re-uniting of families and measures intended to assist integration. The representative of UNHCR Warsaw stressed the need to improve the position of unaccompanied minors who are seeking asylum. In his opinion at present Poland cannot be considered as a safe third country for unaccompanied minors.
The agenda of the NGOs and grassroots groups also includes the phenomenon of trafficking in women and the increasing de facto illegalisation of asylum seekers male or female, and migrants which is taking place in all states bordering on the Baltic.
Representatives of NGOs from Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg stressed the lack of social support for refugees and migrants in Russia and appealed to observe the development of migration especially in Kaliningrad in view of the EU-membership of its neighbours.
The participants of the conference agreed that In view of the current challenges, a co-operation across borders is a prerequisite for the practical work of counselling and aid as well as for lobbying the rights of refugees and migrants. The representatives of NGOs and grassroots groups declared their readiness, to intensify regular exchanges and interaction across border lines, and in this way to create a network of those active in solidarity work with refugees.
On the 18th of November in Bad Segeberg at the conclusion of a conference 'Fluchtweg Ostsee' (‘The Baltic as Flight Route’), representatives of official institutions and NGOs active in the sphere of asylum seekers from all the states bordering on the Baltic Sea have agreed on the following statement. It is an agreement to intensify co-operation between NGOs from those countries on the Baltic:
Civil wars, dictatorial regimes or ”cleansing” on grounds of ethnicity or religion are only some of the causes which not only since the beginning of the `90s have driven people to flee from their homelands. At the same time the conditions at Europe’s outer borders have begun to change in the framework of endeavours to harmonise laws governing asylum both within the EU and in the context too of the expansion of the EU.
This expansion eastwards by the EU has lead in the candidate countries to the introduction of standards governing asylum which have been brought into conformity with EU norms. It is the task of the NGOs to follow this process critically, and to oppose it taking place at the expense of laws containing humanitarian standards relating to asylum seekers. In particular there is a need for action in the fields of access to asylum proceedings, the re-uniting of families, measures intended to assist integration, deportation centres, and in consideration of the position and needs of unaccompanied minors who are seeking asylum. The latter must be accommodated in conditions appropriate to young people, and should be allowed unrestricted access to school and training. Furthermore the increase in controls at the peripheral borders of what will be the future EU should not bring about a situation in which asylum seekers are denied access to protection from persecution and emergency. The responsibilities for asylum seekers should be fairly distributed, and should not be alowed to occur at the cost of the EU candidate states. The agenda of the NGOs and grassroots groups also includes the phenomenon of trafficking in women. The goal of this work is among other things working for protection of victims and ensuring a right to permanent residence in order to achieve a stabilisation and rehabilitation in the destination countries as well as the financial safeguarding of the NGOs active in this domain in the countries of origin of those ”on the sharp end” of trafficking in women. The participants at this conference criticise the trend towards the de facto illegalisation of asylum seekers male or female, and migrants which is taking place in all states bordering on the Baltic.
In view of the current challenges, a co-operation across borders is a prerequisite not only for the practical work of counselling and aid, but also for political lobbying.
The representatives of NGOs and grassroots groups who are in Bad Segeberg, declare their readiness, to intensify regular exchanges and interaction across border lines, and in this way to create a network of those active in solidarity work with asylum seekers.
Astrid Willer/Martin Link,
Refugee council Schleswig-Holstein,
Oldenburger Str. 25,
D-24143 Kiel, Germany,