For illegal migrants Ukraine is the last bastion on the way to Europe


Every year thousands migrants from poor countries go to Europe through Ukraine. We are transit country for them. They get within our borders either through Russia or (if we have visa free regime with their countries) directly.

National composition is the most different. Except, there are no Latin-Americans.

So far, all come – from Africa, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Caucasus and Middle Asia. Lately, they arrive (because of war) from Syria and Libya. In 2011 Ukrainian border was crossed by thousands Libyans, and in the courser of 9 months of the current year this number has already comprised 1,8 thousand.

In total, more than 500 illegal migrants were apprehended at the western borders. Often the violators are caught in Transcarpathia at Ukrainian-Slovakian border (there are mountains here, and migrants regards that it is easier to be unnoticeable here). However, these failures do not stay long in Ukraine – they attack the borders again.

— Those applying for residence permit or refugee status are directed to Migration Service, – it was said by acting chief of Department on Work with Foreigners of Chop Border Detachment, Sergey Kurdelchuk. The illegal migrants can be kept up to six months at temporary refuge in Transcarpathia, then, if they are not granted status, they have to be expelled from the country. In practice, the government does not have money neither for keeping migrants nor for the ticket back home, and many persons stay illegally in Ukraine and afterwards they attack the border again.

— We know some illegal migrants by sight only – we catch them for several times. What’s the use of talking! Children “grow up” at the border! It happens, when pregnant women intend to cross the border, the children are born in the shelter for illegal migrants; they again and again try to do it, – Transcarpathian border guard, Dmitriy told to “Reporter”.

The border is crossed by the groups of 10-20 people. The border guards state that once in two-three days such a company is caught.

— Sometimes they even do not know what country they are at the moment, they have never heard about Ukraine. Their goal is Germany or Scandinavian countries, where there are big diasporas of country fellows. There refugees get good financial aid – more children they have more assistance they receive. Therefore, certainly, the West is as paradise for them. They are ready to cut their way there by hook or by crook.

They have nothing to do here, there are no rich diasporas in Ukraine, so it means that there is no work. That is why a fear to become a settler for migrants is not shared at Border Service, anyway “transit persons” will try to leave our country – at least, till they will join some local system business, or they will establish many connections. However, this is not still observed.

Migrants are transported by buses and lorries. Some of them cross the border in the secret places of the trucks: they lie silently inside. Once the group of more than ten citizens of Bangladesh hardly suffocated in such a “migrant’s” trailer. But, the majority prefers to go on foot along the “green way” (on border guards’ language these are forest paths far from the villages and check points).

The way to Europe from the “black way” costs $7-15 thousand for each migrant, who pay to the smugglers.

— Not long ago we apprehended a group of illegal migrants from Afghanistan. They said that they paid about $60 thousand for four persons. Before this case, two Syrians confessed that they paid $30 thousand for two persons, – it was reported by the chief of press-service of Chop Border Detachment, Roman Pavlenko.

The most expensive is the last barrier – crossing of Ukrainian border to the countries of European Union, which usually finishes by result in a failure. Someone is caught by the border guards and is sent to temporary refuge for illegal migrants, others die while crossing the border (in September 2007 a wide response was drawn as to tragic story of Chechen woman Kamisa Dzhamaldinovaya, who lost her three daughters during her illegal cross of the border – the girls were frozen in the mountains not far from Ukrainian-Polish border)

— In spring we find frozen bodies of illegal migrants in the border mountains. We call them “snowdrops”, – border guars Dmytryi says.

Smuggling business on delivering illegal migrants to Europe bringing in return hundreds thousand dollars is in charge of international criminal groupings. In Ukraine often the country fellows of illegal migrants play the role of guides, who have settled long ago in our country and know all the ins and outs, or local residents from border villages.

For example, Ishtvan M. has already been living off business on smuggling illegal migrants for 9 years.

— Every month more than thousand migrants pass through Transcarpathian border “unnoticeable”. Personally, I guide about 5-10 groups a month getting $100-300 per each (the sum depends on the number of persons). In this business everybody has a clear fixed price: the leaders taking illegal migrants from eastern Ukraine to Transcarpathia and organizing everything can earn $ 1500 -3000. Hundred dollars are paid to drivers taking the groups of refugees at special secret places in the tuck body. Yet more $50-100 is received by the owners of the houses in the border villages, where illegal migrants are hided till the border cross. Those live off “the houses”, while “green light” is not given from the border.

— We have got border guards on a string, Ishtvan M. continues. – “Our” people at the border inform us for $200 from the group about the time of guards changing at Ukrainian and Slovakian side, and we start at this window (usually it takes from 30 to 40 minutes). The groups of those guides are caught, who do not wish to share, so far the detentions are necessary as well. Sometimes it is possible to pay off, though, it will be more expensive – $1500 (however, in Border Service accusations in participation at “supporting” smuggling of illegal migrants are brushed aside).

— I communicate with “clients” on the sign language. In the beginning of the “carrier” I felt sorry for them much – frightened, exhausted people. Some of them even sell their organs in order to get to Europe. Within the years I became a cynic – compassion passed. I take them at night to the border and then they continue their way themselves. Some guides have thermal imagers helping to trace the strangers at night and allow hiding in time. I orientate as to leaves rustles, I know every bush. The guides meet the group at the other side of the border. The majority of illegal migrants go to Slovakia – it is the most popular country among them. The local laws are loyal to refugees: if they are caught – they are arrested for a month, and then they are sent to open camp, from which it is easy to escape.

— Some colleagues do not think much on the point and take illegal migrants to an open field, saying that there is Slovakia behind those trees. They leave people and those getting lost go on strolling off without any definite destination in mind: either they are caught by the border guars or are lost in the mountains/woods. Yet “our brother” can play the whole spectacle before the illegal migrants: some kilometers before the border they put stripped posts connecting them with wire and the migrants as if cross the border. Migrants pay money – the guides disappear.

Before the case solution in Migration Service, caught illegal migrants are sent to Temporary Centre for keeping refugees. There are such refuges in Mukachevo and Perechyn, Transcarpathian oblast. For example, there are more than 50 migrants from seven countries residing in Mukachevo centre. The geography of the settlers is various – Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Cote d’Ivoir, Sri Lanka. Almost a half of them are children. Five older boys attend local school and they even speak Ukrainian and Russian languages pretty well.

As it was stated by the Deputy Director of the Centre, Petr Rosola, illegal migrants live free – they can go to the town, however, they are obliged to come back before 11 p.m. The government allots 15 UAH a day for meals per each person: administration buys products for the total sum, and people prepare meals themselves (there is the majority of Muslims among the migrants, so they do not eat pork). It is clear that governmental support is not enough – so the migrants survive due to the volunteers helping them with clothes and food.

There is also a greenhouse with vegetables in the refuge, the very refugees take care of it. According to the law, the migrants can stay in the centre for refugees not more than six months, though this term is prolonged for the families with children and minors. Some have already “registered” in Mukachevo.

Afghani, Karim Gafuri with wife and daughters has already been living in the refuge for 2 years.  The same period 17-year-old Ali Ahmed Assame is the resident there, who was granted refugee status equaling his rights with Ukrainians’ ones. However, there are few such lucky men. According to data of UNHCR about 1 500 persons seek for refugee status in Ukraine, though not more than 150 of them get this document. Instead, Migration Service issues temporary certificates, which should be prolonged every month.

The most part of migrants assure that they would like to study or work, but it can be realized nowhere. 18-year-old Mustafa Hamami, being caught a month and a half ago together with his mother, brother and his wife in Transcarpathia, has also applied his documents to Migration Service to get refugee status. The boy wanted to get to Sweden to his elder brother.

— There is good life there, — Mustafa dreamily tells in broken English. He wished to become a doctor in Syria, but war destroyed all his plans. The Syrian also plans to learn the language in Ukraine and get job.

— I will definitely not come back home — death is there, — he shakes his head with horror.

Nevertheless, experts regard that the majority of the refugees strive for getting refugee status only for a longer stay in Ukraine – in the last bastion on the way to Europe, which they will attack again and again.