Campaigning for Cheaper Visas for Belarusians

The Movement for Freedom and the Office for a Democratic Belarus Launched a Campaign for Visa Costs Reduction for Belarusians

The Movement for Freedom and the Office for a Democratic Belarus (Brussels) today sent out letters to all governments of the countries -- signatories to the Schengen Agreement with an appeal to re-examine their policies regarding fees and procedures of issuing Schengen visas for Belarusian citizens.

Addressing Ministers of Foreign and Internal Affairs, as well as several Heads of States, chairman of the Movement for Freedom Aliaksandr Milinkevich and director of the ODB Olga Stuzhinskaya describe difficulties experienced by Belarusians in obtaining EU visas after the expansion of the Schengen zone. The increased fee and the intensifying complexities of application procedures result into drastic decrease of the number of visas issued to citizens of Belarus, authors of the text say. The current situation fosters a sense of isolation of Belarusians and consolidates a negative image of the EU among them. The current visa policy, reads the letter, contradicts the European Union’s policy of engagement with Belarusian society and fuels the Belarusian authorities’ propaganda claiming that Europe “does not care” for Belarus.
The Movement for Freedom and the ODB strongly believe that the way the EU member states address the visa issue in Belarus will prove to be one of the crucial factors concerning the future of Belarus and its people. Thus, in their joint letter, Mr Milinkevich and Ms Stuzhinskaya request support for the introduced earlier proposal by the Visegrad group advocating a flat reduction of visa fees as a unilateral step by the EU.  Authors also express hope that the visa issue will receive the necessary attention during the upcoming Czech presidency and will be resolved in a manner facilitating and liberalising the process of granting Schengen visas for all citizens of Belarus.
Appeal of the Movement for Freedom and the Office for a Democratic Belarus has been supported by more than 70 associations and individuals.

Campaign in support of the European Parliament’s Initiative on Visa Costs Reduction for Belarusian Citizens
The campaign initiated in the European Parliament by Genowefa Grabowska (PL), Justas Vincas Paleckis (LT) and Hannes Swoboda (AU) under the slogan “Say YES to Cheaper Visas for Belarusians” is gaining popularity both within the European Parliament and in Belarus. More than 80 signatures have been already collected in support of the written declaration introduced by the three members of the Parliament. In case more than 391 members of the organization favour the declaration, text will be sent to the EU Council and the Commission.
The Office for a Democratic Belarus actively supports this initiative through collecting letters from Belarusian non-governmental groups, political parties and civil initiatives. ODB members visited Strasbourg during the Parliament’s session on February 18-21 in order to inform as many MEPs as possible about the current problems with Schengen visas experienced by the Belarusian citizens.
Belarus remains the only country of the EU Eastern neighbourhood whose citizens have to pay €60 for a single-entry Schengen visa. This sum amounts to almost one third of the average monthly salary in the country. Lowering visa costs and easing visa-issuing procedures would assist enormously in preventing the isolation of the Belarusian people. It would also help implement the EU's policy of supporting the democratisation process, through facilitating people-to-people contacts between Belarusians and EU citizens.

The Office members distributed in Strasbourg an appeal with this message and encouraged members of the Parliament to put their signature under the Declaration N12.