One month has passed from the date of approving the visa-free regime with the EU.
However, there are still many myths around issue of biometric passports, crossing the border, etc. For example, one of the problematic issues is potentially extra attention to the displaced persons and persons living in temporarily occupied territories who are trying to receive necessary documents. ІА Дивись.info looked into the matter to check if it is really so.
According to the data of the State Border Service of Ukraine as of today 95,460 Ukrainian citizens travelled to European Union states using biometric passports. 50 citizens were refused the entrance. According to the press office of the State Border Service of Ukraine, “the refusals were due to inability to prove the purpose of the trip and lack of financial security».
To compare, during one month after implementing visa-free regime between the EU and Georgia only 26 Georgian citizens got refusal of entry to the European Union, according to the Європейська правда (Yevropeiska Pravda) with reference to the local publication Agenda.ge. At the same time only 11,700 citizens used this opportunity during this period.
At that time the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration, Tamar Khulordava, notifed that initially there were worries that many citizens would be denied the entrance. However later, it has been found that only persons that had no biometric passport or could not justify the purpose of their trip were denied the entrance.
Reason for Worries
Ukrainians also had worries as to crossing the border using the visa-free regime. Mainly those who have the status of internally displaced persons and residents of temporarily occupied territories were concerned. One of the reasons for that was the statement of the Secretary of National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchinov. On June 22, he stated that «it is necessary thoroughly check all those arriving from the occupied territories and willing to receive a biometric passport».
According to him, after the launch of the visa-free regime between Ukraine and the EU, the number of those wishing to receive biometric passports from Crimea and Donbas occupied territory has significantly increased.
Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchinov. Photo: 5th channel
«At the same time having no access to the records that have remained at the occupied territories, there is a risk of getting access to visa-free regime by separatists, citizens of another country, terrorists or representatives of Russian intelligence services under the pretence of Ukrainian citizens from the occupied territories», — Oleksandr Turchinov said.
According to him, to prevent such cases, it is necessary to make changes to the current laws that will allow thoroughly inspecting the citizens arriving from the occupied territories to apply for a biometric passport. «If there are any discrepancies in the information submitted, such citizens must be denied the issue of a biometric passport”, - the Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine added.
All people are equal
ІА Дивись.info decided to check if the displaced persons and residents of the occupied territories have reasons to worry and if those who are registered in the uncontrolled territories might undergo additional inspection at the border with a certain country.
In response to our request if the State Border Service of Ukraine divides between internally displaced persons and other citizens, the head of Lviv border unit, Serhii Melnik gave a negative answer.
«According to the information entered to the databases of persons who crossed the state border of Ukraine, the staff of the State Border of Ukraine does not keep records of persons by their status”, - he indicated.
It is also confirmed by web-site «Відкрий Європу», an informational platform of All-Ukrainian campaign on visa-free regime with the European Union states, the purpose of which is to explain to the citizens of Ukraine that are travelling to the EU the rules of crossing the border and staying in the EU.
The resource’s experts indicate that Ukrainians that reside at the uncontrollable territories of eastern regions and received biometric travel passports of the citizens of Ukraine can visit Europe without visas on the same terms as residents of other regions of the country. The same also refers to the Ukrainian citizens living in Crimea and having biometric travel passports.
«The citizens of Ukraine residing in Crimea and Some Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Region can apply for biometric travel passports at any unit of the State Migration Service at the territory controlled by Ukraine», — the experts added.
Serhii Stukanov is one of the displaced persons and holder of a biometric passport. He is from Donetsk, but he also used to live and have registration in Luhansk, but now he lives in Kyiv. He applied for a biometric passport in advance. It was April, when he went to find out when the documents can be submitted and which certificates are required. For clarifications, he approached one of the capital’s departments of migration service convenient for him.
«I was appointed to submit the documents on April 11. (3 documents were needed, - author’s edition), namely a copy of internal passport, and original and copy of the current travel passport. In addition, when they saw that I was borne in Donetsk and registered in Luhansk, they asked to bring many different documents: higher education diploma, driving license, identification code, military service card or registration certificate», — Serhii thinks.
«On April 11 I came to submit the documents. As of that day, I have already made a prepayment of UAH 570, as far as I remember. I brought with me the diploma, I did not take the whole package of documents. I presented the diploma, they had no more questions to me. I took a photo, completed the application, made fingerprints, put an electronic signature and left», — Serhii adds.
He had to receive his new travel passport in 20 working days. However, he managed to do it only on March 16 as production of documents coincided with many days off: Easter, May holidays, etc.
Finally, when the passport was ready, Serhii Stukanov collected it without problems and was on the way to Poland by train on the first night of visa-free regime.
Human Right Activists Against Additional Check-ups
Almost all services dealing with issue of biometric passports write about additional check-ups when receiving a biometric passport, as mentioned by displaced person Serhii, on their websites.
However, the lawyer, head of civil organization «Centre of Legal and Political Studies “SIM” and member of the Board of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Lidiia Topolevska assures that there can not be any additional check-ups.
«He (Oleksandr Turchinov – author’s edition) takes upon himself too much power. It goes without saying that internally displaced persons must receive biometric passports in the same way like all other citizens in order to travel without visas. There can not be any other issues. The fact that they have a displaced person’s certificate is a status for getting benefits and some accruals that other categories do not have. Other than that, they are the same citizens”, - Lidiia Topolevska emphasizes.
From her point of view, it is illegal to request additional documents. In such cases the lawyer advises to ask from the officer a written request and dispute it either with a higher rank officer or court. «Unfortunately, the level of officials at places leaves much to be desired. There are situations when they don’t know the basic things or are governed by some regulations that oblige them to request it. But it is illegal», — Lidiia Topolevska adds.
The expert also notes that so far the displaced persons did not come with problems of receiving biometric passports.
National Security Matter rather than Violation of Rights
The head of the press office of the State Migration Service of Ukraine, Serhii Gunko has a different opinion about this situation. He states that migration service can not identify a person only by his internal passport, therefore it must request additional documents.
If a passport was issued at the uncontrolled territory, the migration service has no access to Form No. 1, therefore it can not trust this passport since it has not protection whatsoever from forgery
The head of the press office of the State Migration Service of Ukraine, Serhii Gunko
«As of today the basic identification method in Ukraine is verification of data from the passport of a citizen of Ukraine submitted by the person when applying for a travel passport with data of Form No. 1, passport application. This is an A5 information card that is kept at the document issue place. The identification without verification with Form No. 1 can not be approved», — Serhii Gunko explains.
According to the head of the press office, under Resolution No. 152 of the Cabinet, the State Migration Service of Ukraine takes into account any information provided by the citizen on his/her visit . It can be a driving licence, if such, ordinary travel passport or any documents with a photo that were issued earlier, etc.
«A citizen solely decides which documents s/he has. There is no list of compulsory documents that must be presented. However, it is important to understand that if the passport was issued at the uncontrolled territory, the migration service has no access to form No. 1 and, therefore, can not trust this passport since it is completely not protected from forgery», — Serhii Gunko says.
In addition to it, he emphasizes that there are no special procedures for the displaced persons when applying for a travel passport. He believes that the identification process is a matter of national security.
As we can see, currently neither officials, nor top public officers, nor human rights activists managed to agree if additional check-ups of the displaced persons are necessary when receiving a biometric travel passport. And it looks like that for now internally displaced persons will have to provide additional documents for identification. At least later when they cross the border, they can feel calm since the border guards will not have claims to the displaced persons only due to their status. If such happens, the actions of the border guards should be disputed as it is a direct violation of rights of the internally displaced persons.
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This article has been prepared in a framework of the Regional Voices project, supported by the European Union.