The BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration held its fifth meeting in the plenary hall of the State Duma of Kaliningrad on 29 March. Delegations from Åland, Finland, Germany, Hamburg, Latvia, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Nordic Council, Poland, Russia and Sweden participated in the meeting. Chaired by Ms Carola Veit, Vice-Chair of the Working Group and President of the Hamburg State Parliament the Working Group discussed expert presentations on the Russian perspective on migration and integration, current aspects of the issue from the perspective of the CBSS as well as upcoming activities and meetings.
Speeches and expert presentations
Migration plays an important role in Kaliningrad. Most migrants come from other parts of Russia such as Siberia or the Russian Far East. Because of the vibrant economy of the region, an influx of labour is in demand. Marina Orgeeva, Chairperson of the Kaliningrad Regional Duma, stressed that new businesses in the region demanded more people. For this reason, she concluded, migration is welcome in Kaliningrad.
Ms Valentina Pivnenko, Head of the Delegation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to the BSPC, pointed out the importance that issues concerning migration must be solved together and that cooperation with the rest of Europe in these matters is essential. She also described how the Kaliningrad region is trying to attract more people to come there. One concrete way is that migrants from the Russian Far East are given one hectare of farming land if they decide to settle down in the Kaliningrad region. At the same time, she stressed, it is important to fight illegal immigration into the country.
Another way of making migration easier is the abolition of visa requirements. Mr Kirill Adzinov, Head of the Department for the organization of visa work at the Main Department for Migration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, described a new type of visa. In some time, it will be possible to issue an electronic visa through a web-based system. The aim is to facilitate visits to Kaliningrad for not least the large groups of visitors from Poland and Finland.
Russia introduced a new law on asylum in 1993. Since then there have been many dramatic changes in and around Russia. The conflict in Ukraine led to 271 000 asylum seekers coming to Russia in 2014. Three years later there were only some 9 000 Ukrainians seeking asylum in Russia. Around 500 of the persons that were granted asylum in Russia ended up in Kaliningrad. They were mostly Ukrainians, but also some Afghans.
Many people come to Kaliningrad to work for a limited amount of time and then they return to their country of origin. For those who decide to stay it is state policy that measures of integration should be applied. The aim is to avoid all possible tensions between the migrants and the Russian society, explained Ms Victoria Ledeneva, Head of the Department for methodological support of social and cultural adaptation and integration of foreign citizens at the Federal Agency for Nationalities of Russia.
In Kaliningrad, and in Russia as a whole, there is a very strong emphasis on social adaptation and integration, not least on a regional or local level. It is a priority that newly arrived migrants are introduced in Russian customs, laws and culture as well as to the Russian language. Exclusion and segregation, as well as the creation of ethnic enclaves, should be avoided.
Migrant adaptation is described as a complex process where the migrant has to adapt not only to a new geographical environment, but also to a new set of social, political, cultural and economic realities. In order to succeed with this task, a number of agencies and local society cooperate.
In various Russian regions, newly arrived migrants are offered help by migration centres where fingerprint registration is being performed as well as a medical examination, registration on health insurance policy, translation of documents and testing language skills and knowledge of Russian history. There are also call centres for migrants, information portals on line in different languages and a sort of “Sunday school” for migrants.
Because of the above mentioned measures, ethnic enclaves is not a great problem in Russia, according to Ms Victoria Ledeneva. Some 80 percent of all the migration labour come from Uzbekistan and they have all been thoroughly checked before entering into Russia.
Residence permits are today issued for a period of five years. This, however, is soon to be changed. Late last year a new concept for migration in the Russian Federation for the years 2019-2025 was adopted. One of the new policies is that residence permits can be issued for an unlimited period of time.
To facilitate the migration of workers even further, there are also private companies dedicated to attract migrant workers to come to the Kaliningrad region who act as a sort of intermediary. Mr Victor Musikhin is director of one such private institution for additional education. There are other similar organizations in other parts of Russia, but Mr Musikhin believes that his is one of the better organized.
Every year, around 2000 migrants seek his organization’s help. They may come from neighbouring countries such as Poland or Lithuania, or from places like Germany, Italy or China. The vast majority, however, is from Uzbekistan. There is even a direct flight service between Kaliningrad and Uzbekistan.
Typically, a company in Kaliningrad will contact the organization with a request of what kind of employee they are searching. The organization then finds a suitable employee (proof of demanded skills and a clean criminal record are demanded) and sends the request to the Office of labour migration. After that interviews are carried out over Skype.
If the interview turns out satisfactory, an invitation is sent out and the company meets the migrant at the airport, helps him or her with all the paper work and can even provide a low-interest loan to get settled before the first salary.
It all sounds fairly smooths, but Mr Musikhin stressed that there is still too much bureaucracy surrounding the whole process. It would be much easier if there was only one state agency dealing with these questions instead of several. If the process would be more standardized, much would run faster and smoother.
Unlike some other countries around the Baltic Sea, unaccompanied minors are few I Russia. One reason for this is that Russian immigration always demand a valid passport or ID to cross their borders.
Although the numbers of unaccompanied minors are relatively low in Russia, it doesn’t mean that the problem does not exist. Ms Vladlena Avdeeva, Project Manager at the NGO Stellit in St Petersburg described the work her organization performs for children at high risk of human trafficking.
According to UNICEF, about 28 percent of the victims of trafficking worldwide are children. In 2016, there were about 10 million children who were victims of trafficking.
Probably the real number was even higher as many cases are never detected or reported.
Stellit has done research on 113 children from Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan living in shelters in St Petersburg.
According to the results of consultations with children, one of the most important characteristics of providing assistance for children is taking their opinions into account and informing about the situation.
The components of the “ideal” shelter for children include the opportunity to develop everyday skills and to have private space, as well as the opportunities for self-realization creative activities, sports, and education.
Consultations with children as “experts” could be used in developing the preventive programs and recommendations for professionals involved in the identification and rehabilitation of children suffered from abuse, exploitation and human trafficking.
Mr Bernd Hemingway, Deputy Director General of the CBSS Secretariat, emphasised that migration is growing in the Baltic sea region, and that it is now the largest component in demographic change. Member states are still struggling with the large influx of asylum seekers in 2015. At the same time, other countries in the Baltic region are facing the opposite problem – that of high emigration.
In 2015, there were around 10 million Russians living outside abroad and that same year Russia hosted over 11,6 million migrants. Similar trends can be seen in Poland and the Baltic states. These countries are running the risk of suffering from brain drain, Mr Hemingway underlined.
He pointed out three fundamental factors for successful integration: labour and the possibility to provide for own means of living, language skills and, thirdly, education and health care. One could also add a fourth factor: a welcoming culture in the host society.
Mr Hemingway also stressed that demography plays an important role. While not the only answer to the problems with an ageing population and declining birth rates, migration certainly can make a difference. Fears that labour migration would result in higher unemployment among citizens in the host country are exaggerated. Especially when it comes to highly skilled migrant workers, the effect can be the contrary – their contribution can make the whole economy grow. There is still a problem of recognizing foreign diplomas in many countries. That needs to be solved.
For these reasons we should welcome migration, but also make sure that the people coming to work in our countries are treated fairly and are given the same fundamental social rights as everyone else, Mr Hemingway pointed out. Belgium is an example where care givers (a much-needed profession in our ageing societies) are provided with good work conditions.
In order to have a successful influx of immigrants, Mr Hemingway mentioned access to health care for all. This includes health care being offered in different languages and in different cultural contexts. Another important task is to make sure that the children of the immigrants succeed in school. Today, far too many do not finish their education.
Lastly, he mentioned the important role of the media in this respect. The media is of course free to cover whatever it wants, but it should be careful about which words they use when describing migration. There is a big need for refraining from using discriminatory and xenophobic language.
Further procedure and next meetings
Ms Carola Veit, who chaired the meeting, was very satisfied with the outcome of the second survey that had been sent out to the respective governments of the Baltic region. At the time for the Kaliningrad meeting, 12 out of a total of 14 governments had answered. And there was good hope that the remaining would soon provide their answers as well. An excellent result, according to Ms Veit.
The idea is that the analysis of the surveys will reveal best practices examples and provide a strong base for the future work. That analysis will be performed by the Migration Institute of Finland, based in Turku. The result will be presented to the Working Group.
The next meeting for the Working Group will be in Schwerin 27 and 28 of May 2019. It will be held in combination with the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Youth Forum. The meeting after that is proposed to take place in Hamburg 23-25 October 2019 with the European Forum on the Integration of Migrants and Refugees.