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Should the police be entrusted with migration policy?

17.02.2009    source:
Viacheslav Likhachev
While changes in migration policy are long overdue, the author expresses grave doubts over the wisdom of placing this vital area under Ministry of Internal Affairs control

Changes in government migration policy are long overdue, and one must therefore welcome action by the Head of State aimed at introducing some order. The creation of a separate department to regulate government policy in this area is an obvious step.

Unfortunately doubts arise over the ability of a profile State committee to effectively work in this sphere. In fact the transformation of the State Committee on Nationalities and Migration into the State Committee on Nationalities and Religion was intended as the gradual transfer of the functions of the working committee in this direction to other departments. Staffing confusion, financing limitations and complaints from the Ministry of Internal Affairs have hampered the work of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religion over the last year.

However the specific decision of the National Defence and Security Council brought into force through Presidential Decree is not ideal for a number of reasons. The main objection is the effective subordination of the body carrying out government policy in the area of migration to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). This option was actively discussed and lobbied by the MIA leadership (with the support of the Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchinov) from the beginning of 2008. The initiators of this project cited the experience of some developed countries in which migration is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  The problem is that in those countries the MIA is a civil body, and its “policing” and “criminal” direction is just one of its departments.

Ukraine’s MIA on the other hand inherited its structure from Soviet times and is virtually entirely the “criminal police”. The transfer of government migration policy will lead to all activities in this sphere, where there is undoubtedly a need for strategic changes, boiling down to the “fight against illegal migration”.

This struggle was one of four main focuses in MIA activity during 2008. In practice this means that “operation “Migrant””, which mainly involves checking documents of all those unfortunate enough to not have Slavonic facial features, and contributes considerably to the material position of ordinary police patrol officers, will become a permanent fixture.

Public statements by the Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Lutsenko and his adviser Gennady Moskal who has most actively commented on migration issues (and who is, as far as one can judge, the main candidate for the leadership of the “separate central body of executive power on issues of migration”) suggest that for them all government migration policy will entail maximum restriction in the number of people coming to Ukraine.

Some experts draw attention to the likelihood of a financial motive behind the tug of war between various departments for control over migration. This is linked with the fact that considerable amounts are being allocated through European Union support for equipping temporary holding facilities. It is absolutely unacceptable that the delicate issue of migration policy which is important for the country should be used in the battle of control over cash flows.

Viacheslav Likhachev is the Editor of the bulletin “anti-Semitism, xenophobia and the rights of national minorities in Ukraine”.

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