Lukashenka’s new decree forces Belarusians to take chances on imprisonment in Belarus or be trapped abroad without documents.
On September 4, 2023, the Lukashenka regime once again reached beyond Belarusian borders through Decree 278, which denies Belarusian citizens consular services abroad. This executive order targets an estimated 200,000-1,000,000 Belarusians who have fled the country’s political repressions and seeks to force them into returning to Belarus, where they face arrest and imprisonment. The decree de facto deprives hundreds of thousands of Belarusian citizens of their rights, including proof of citizenship, the freedom to travel, and the right to own property, in violation of the constitution of Belarus. In these extraordinary conditions, Belarusian American organizations call on the U.S. Congress to request the Secretary of U.S. Homeland Security to designate Belarus for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Special Student Relief.
Decree 278 prohibits the issuance and renewal of passports and other legal documents outside of Belarus; it also bans power of attorney certification at Belarusian consulates while simultaneously de-recognizing powers of attorney issued and certified outside of Belarus. Belarusian citizens are now required to return to Belarus in order to renew a passport, obtain or certify the documents confirming their educational credentials, marriage, and birth certificates, issue a power of attorney to their representatives in Belarus, and manage or sell their properties. Sadly, when Belarusians do return to Belarus, they get arrested.
The State Department has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory for Belarus, advising U.S. citizens to immediately leave and abstain from traveling to the country due to the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine, arbitrary application of local laws, wrongful detentions, and the potential for civil unrest. Belarusian citizens returning from abroad face a high probability of persecution and loss of freedom. International air travel to Belarus is limited, and land borders have been experiencing intermittent closures due to the volatile situation in the region.
Earlier this year, the regime adopted amendments to the citizenship law requiring those granted status in foreign countries for political reasons to register with the Ministry of Interior, which will lead to further persecution. In violation of the Belarusian Constitution, the law allows the regime to strip its political opponents of Belarusian citizenship.
The ability to travel, receive medical care, access banking, and much more rests upon one’s ability to prove one’s identity. For many Belarusians in the United States, the only federally recognized ID is their Belarusian passport. Without additional protections, as their passports eventually expire, Belarusians will be trapped in legal limbo, unable to exercise their basic rights, access essential services, or even adjust their immigration status. The TPS would allow Belarusian citizens in the United States to receive a federally-recognized identity document and retain their access to services requiring proof of identity.
The United States should not tolerate the rogue government of Belarus forcing Belarusians residing legally inside the U.S. into an untenable choice between statelessness and arbitrary imprisonment. Granting Belarusians Temporary Protected Status and Special Student Relief will demonstrate the United States’ dedication to supporting democracy and human rights against dictatorship and oppression.
Belarus Freedom Forum
Association of Belarusians in America
Belarusian-American Association, DC
Belarusian-American Association, NY