Cablegate: Commonwealth of Independent States Conference

Published: Tue 1 Nov 2005 01:56 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) SUMMARY. An October 10 meeting in Geneva marked the
end of the decade-long CIS Conference Process, originally
created to address problems of refugees and displaced persons
-- as well as statelessness -- arising out of the break up of
the Soviet Union. Although a final conference statement was
endorsed by all and there was a perceived need for a
follow-on mechanism, no decision was made on new structures
to continue the dialogue on migration and refugee issues.
Two distinct visions emerged: (1) Belarus, proposal for a
CIS dialogue managed by a permanent secretariat in Minsk that
would be partially funded by Russia; and (2) Moldova's
proposal for sub-regional ad hoc meetings, as needed (with
Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova forming one
nucleus). A technical meeting will be scheduled in early
2006 to try to find agreement. Uzbekistan's absence was in
marked contrast to previous participation in the CIS
Conference Process. PRM/ECA Etta Toure and USEU/PRM Marc
Meznar represented the U.S. in the meeting, which was
co-chaired by the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for
Migration (IOM). END SUMMARY.
Meeting Overview
2. (U) The CIS Conference Process was established to
"Address the Problems of Refugees, Displaced Persons, Other
Forms of Involuntary Displacement and Returnees in the
Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and
Relevant Neighboring States." The purpose of the 10 October
meeting in Geneva was to conclude the CIS Conference Process,
adopt a final statement, and look ahead towards a possible
new flexible framework for Euro-Asian cooperation on
migration, asylum and displacement issues. At the day-long
meeting, participating CIS countries, their neighbors,
Friends and observers of the process read statements and
discussed accomplishments and future plans for addressing the
migration challenges that continue to confront the region.
Remaining gaps in the implementation of policies related to
asylum and protection were mentioned as a concern by the
majority of delegations. Delegates also addressed issues
related to security and combating terrorism, border
management, increased movements of migrants and
asylum-seekers into and across the region, trafficking in
persons and xenophobia.
3. (U) Meeting participants included the Russian Federation,
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Ukraine. Turkmenistan
and Uzbekistan were absent. The Council of Europe, the
United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Organization
for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the
International Labor Organization (ILO) as well as lead NGOs,
including the Danish Refugee Council, Georgian Young Lawyers
Association and Non-Violence International were represented.
Other Friends of the Process, neighboring countries and
observers including Austria, Bulgaria, China, the Czech
Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Islamic
Republic of Iran, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland,
Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and Turkey were also
represented. Many of these countries noted the
accomplishments of the Process and congratulated
participating CIS governments and partner organizations --
UNHCR, IOM, the OSCE and the Council of Europe -- for the
marked successes in developing concerted efforts, policy
measures, legal structures and practical mechanisms to manage
the largest displacement challenge of the last half century.
Participating CIS countries thanked partner agencies and
donors and summed up their accomplishments, lessons learned,
as well as future plans on migration issues in the region.
CIS Countries on the Process
4. (U) Belarus highlighted the effect of the newly
established external frontier of the European Union (EU) on
its western border in drawing more migrants and refugees into
its territory and said that the financial and technical
assistance given by IOM and UNHCR to adopt legislation and
establish facilities that meet international standards was
extremely useful. Over 3,000 asylum requests from 33
nationalities have been filed and adjudicated by Belarusian
authorities since acceding to the Geneva Refugee Convention.
Belarus announced plans to formally join IOM this fall,
noting that migration remained a central challenge for the
CIS countries. Belarus noted its country's active
participation in the EU-funded Soderkoping process and said
that the EU and countries beyond should be welcomed to
continue engaging with this new structure for the CIS both as
financial contributors and as countries affected by
international migration.
5. (U) Moldova stated that the 1996 CIS conference managed
to carry out its tasks and that it was now time to devolve
action to flexible, action-oriented groups not supra-national
in format -- at the sub-regional level. Moldova noted that
the EU was opening a full-fledged delegation in Chisinau and
that its program of action with the EU contained a specific
chapter on migration/asylum. Additionally, it was
cooperating with the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe in
these matters. With Romanian accession to the EU, Moldova
said it expected to experience more flows of migrants and
refugees into its territory. Moldova noted it was the first
CIS country to adopt a humanitarian status or tolerated stay
for those who did not meet Geneva Convention definitions but
who would not be sent back to regions of conflict; those
denied asylum were also given the chance to appeal the
decision. Other developments included giving UNHCR full
access to prisons, ports of entry and airports. Moldova also
highlighted an invitation to both the EU and the U.S. to help
monitor the border with TransDnistria.
6. (U) Russia said it attaches great importance to the issue
of migration and that Russian President Putin is very
involved in the issue, particularly as it relates to the
Russian economy, its large territory, terrorism, as well as
legal and illegal people movements. Russia reminded
participants of its role in the Process and express its
desire for a new platform for continuing the Process with
cooperation by all. It welcomed international assistance in
this effort and is ready to work with international players.
7. (U) Ukraine said that as a transit point between east and
west, it faces major challenges in combating trafficking.
Ukraine also highlighted its accomplishments since the
establishment of the Plan of Action, and underscored the role
of international assistance. Ukraine has adopted new laws to
address the problems of migration; it has created a data base
on migration related issues and supports international
dialogue to address gaps and challenges in migration. Ukraine
welcomed the attention by the OSCE to the issue of the
Crimean Tatars. Ukraine supports the return of more than
250,000 Crimean Tatars who are struggling to reestablish
their lives and reclaim their national and cultural rights
against many social and economic obstacles.
8. (U) Armenia and Azerbaijan noted the major cause (the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict) of displacements in both countries
and highlighted accomplishments in establishing migration
policies, the continuing challenges and the need for
international support to combat trafficking in persons. Both
countries emphasized their assistance to their displaced
populations -- 800,000 in Azerbaijan and 300,000 in Armenia,
according to both countries. Armenia has included assistance
for their displaced (ethnic Armenians who fled Azerbaijan) in
its national plans, while Azerbaijan has set up an Oil Fund
to move its IDPs to permanent settlements.
9. (U) Kazakhstan said that international migration has been
an important phenomenon during the years following its
independence, noting that for the first time last year there
was balance between the numbers of those emigrating and
immigrating. In 2004, over one million foreigners were
present in Kazakhstan, including up to 300,000 illegal
migrant workers. Kazakhstan said it was working with
neighboring states to regularize the status of these
migrants. Recent steps to manage immigration included: a)
adopting a process for issuing visas and residency permits
simultaneously; b) establishing a training center, which
could be used by other countries; c) assisting returning
ethnic Kazakhs, victims of trafficking and refugees; e)
setting up an electronic database of refugees; and, f) moving
towards biometric passports. Kazakhstan said that it was
working with Russia to stop illegal immigration because it
was worried that this phenomenon could assist terrorists to
move between countries.
10. (U) Kyrgyzstan warned that negative trends in migration
were causing geopolitical instability in Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan expressed concern over the treatment of Kyrgyz
laborers abroad, noting that it had acceded to the Convention
on the Rights of Migrant Workers and other key international
instruments. The Kyrgyz delegate expressed thanks to Russian
authorities for resolving status problems connected to
migrant workers and said that the Migration Office would soon
open a branch in Moscow. Within Kyrgyzstan, assistance was
being given to many of the 15,000 returning ethnic Kyrgyz,
the over 4000 registered refugees and 500 asylum seekers.
Kyrgyzstan said that the inflow of Uzbeks had not stopped and
that it was unprepared to receive another large influx like
the group of 500 that had crossed the border in May and had
stayed in-country for two months before being resettled to
third countries. Kyrgyzstan said that more work needed to be
done at the sub-regional level for dealing with new refugee
flows, as well as statelessness.
11. (U) Tajikistan said its on-going priorities include:
improving the legislative basis for refugee/migration issues;
managing migration flows; signing bilateral and multilateral
agreements; curbing illegal immigration; training officials;
and signing agreements with countries of destination for
labor migration. Regarding expatriate migrant laborers,
Tajikistan said that it has a developed a strategy document
that includes providing good information prior to departure.
Tajikistan also said that the plight of IDPs and ecological
migrants needed to be addressed.
12. (U) Georgia's Minister of Refugees and Accommodation, who
did not come prepared to make an opening statement, applauded
the accomplishments of the Process and highlighted Georgia's
problems in addressing issues related to IDPs, refugees and
ecological migrants.
13. (U) Uzbekistan's absence was in marked contrast to
previous participation in the CIS Conference Process. Like
neighboring Turkmenistan, the Uzbeks increasingly are
isolating themselves from discussing migration and refugee
issues with their neighbors and re-establishing a Soviet-type
concept of border control.
Replacing the CIS Process: Two Schools of Thought
--------------------------------------------- ---
14. (SBU) Though the CIS Conference Process has officially
ended, it was obvious from statements presented by
governments, as well as private conversations with the
participating officials, that there are two schools of
thought on the replacement of the CIS Conference Process.
During the conference, Belarus proposed a new system of
dialogue for the greater CIS region that would involve
international organizations and be coordinated by a permanent
secretariat in Minsk. Russia and Tajikistan supported
Belarus' proposal during the plenary session. In a private
conversation, the Russian representative told PRMOffs that
Belarus' proposal was suggested by UNHCR and that Russia was
prepared to contribute $200,000 towards the establishment of
a secretariat in Minsk. When asked if the venue could be
elsewhere, he said (after an awkward silence) that Russia was
flexible and would likely support any consensus decision for
replacing the Process. Armenia, which is not part of the
GUAM countries, supports the Belarus proposal for replacing
the CIS process, as do the Central Asian countries.
15. (SBU) The second school of thought advocated by many who
consider the Belarusian proposal a Russian plot to control
the dialogue was proposed by Moldova and includes flexible,
action-oriented groups at the sub-regional level. Moldova
stated that Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan had agreed with
them to form a sub-regional group (GUAM) which would be more
oriented to the European Union and other international
partners. Ukraine said that any new arrangements to replace
the CIS Process must address today's migration challenges
through bi-lateral and regional approaches. Georgia clearly
rejected the Belarus proposal for a secretariat in Minsk.
GUAM officials told PRMOffs that they did not feel there was
enough confidence among the CIS countries to have a
secretariat in one of the countries. Specifically, it could
not be in Belarus or Russia -- particularly since Russia
would have leverage with its funding prerogatives.
Donors' Position
16. (U) Friends and observers of the Process, including ILO,
UNDP and the USG expressed their readiness to contribute
actively to the next stage of international cooperation in
regulating international migration and addressing
displacement across the CIS. They also welcomed impetus
towards developing comprehensive regional, sub-regional and
national frameworks. Following is the USG's formal statement
on the conclusion of the CIS Conference Process:
At the 1996 CIS Conference we embarked on an almost
unprecedented journey. The Program of Action, with its
comprehensive strategy and its underlying principles of human
rights and refugee law, was indeed ambitious. It has been
quite a journey we have learned many lessons, much has been
accomplished, but many challenges remain.
I would like to express my government's gratitude to UNHCR,
IOM and OSCE for their significant efforts in assisting the
CIS governments to make substantial gains in addressing some
of the difficulties associated with refugees and migrants in
the region. The partnership of UNHCR, IOM, OSCE and, later,
the Council of Europe in a joint Secretariat has been a
unique and successful endeavor.
My government fully supports the affirmed desire by
stakeholders to replace the current CIS Conference Process
with new arrangements which would provide a flexible,
action-oriented and States-owned framework for structured
dialogue and cooperation on a comprehensive range of issues
related to migration, asylum and displacement. This desire is
in line with the basic premise of the Conference process
that, over time, the CIS governments themselves would assume
greater responsibility for implementing the Program of
Action. This responsibility includes prioritization of
refugee and migration issues in national agendas, designating
increased resources to address unresolved matters, and
following through with the political resolve to accomplish
the tasks at hand.
As we look to a new paradigm to continue the work begun in
1996, my government would like to highlight two issues that
deserve particular attention:
1. Continued capacity building in migration management Since
1996, my government has provided over $70 million to assist
CIS countries on a wide range of migration issues. This
assistance to governments and migration sector
non-governmental organizations includes capacity building in
migration management. With help from IOM, our migration
implementing partner, my government's initial contributions
allowed for the establishment of IOM offices and cooperation
frameworks in migration management in most CIS countries.
Today, other international donors are building on these
initial investments. However, we cannot lose sight of the
importance of continuing to build on these investments to
ensure sustainability. Otherwise, we risk losing valuable
ground. I urge all stakeholders to keep this in mind as we
move to conclude the CIS Conference Process.
2. Overcoming persistent problems - Despite many
achievements, we cannot ignore a number of areas that require
greater efforts to overcome persistent problems. These
--More work on conflict prevention and the peaceful
resolution of political disputes;
--Greater respect for human rights and the rule of law;
better protection of refugees & IDPs;
--More cooperation on voluntary repatriation;
--Better guarantees of the proper treatment of asylum
--A need to close the gap between migration-related
legislation and implementation in the CIS; and
--Continued efforts to prevent and combat trafficking in
human beings, and provide more effective support to victims.
We must renew our commitment to progress in each of these
areas. My government's hope is that the structure and
modalities following the CIS Conference Processes will
provide venues not only to address these problems, but also
to sustain what has been accomplished since 1996. /END
17. (SBU) Russia's decision to put money on the secretariat
is a laudable step in the countries of the region taking
ownership of the process (one of the long-term objectives of
the CIS Process). However, this leadership from the former
master is clearly unwelcome in the parts of the CIS that
yearn to join western, democratic groupings. There is no
doubt that a variety of unresolved migration and refugee
issues including trafficking in persons, labor migration,
statelessness, and new refugee outflows augur for a continue
dialogue among countries of the region. Ideally, a periodic
conference that brought together all countries for common
themes (like labor migration) could be supplemented by more
frequent interactions at the sub-regional level on specific
themes (like Uzbek refugee flows). Clearly, migration
dynamics have altered significantly in the CIS countries over
the past ten years. We recommend continued coordination with
IOM and UNHCR as CIS countries strive to map out arrangements
that will replace the CIS Conference Process.
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