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Commission presents guidelines on stricter visa processing for Russian citizens

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Commission is presenting guidelines to support Member States’ consulates in handling short-stay visa applications lodged by Russian citizens. Taking into account the heightened security risks the EU is facing following Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, consulates should conduct a strict assessment of security risks. This could possibly lead to visa refusal as well as to the revocation of existing valid visas. Russian applicants travelling for non-essential reasons will also face a longer and more thorough process for lodging applications. Today’s guidelines will ensure a common and consistent approach across consulates. The EU will remain open to Russian visa applicants travelling for essential purposes, including notably family members of EU citizens, journalists, dissidents and civil society representatives.

Today’s guidelines follow the political agreement reached by Foreign Affairs Ministers at their informal meeting of 31 August on a common and coordinated way forward when it comes to visa issuance for Russian citizens. They come after the Council adopted a Decision today to suspend the EU’s Visa Facilitation Agreement with Russia, giving Member States wide discretion and greater scrutiny in processing short-stay visa applications from Russian citizens.

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “In the current context, EU consulates in Russia need to ensure a much higher degree of scrutiny on applications for short-stay visas. Thanks to today’s guidelines, we will do this based on a clear, transparent and common approach. The EU will continue acting united in face of Russia’s military aggression against an EU candidate country.”

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson said: “Being a tourist in the EU is not a fundamental right. With today’s guidelines, Member States are advised to check thoroughly and with a great level of scrutiny visa applications from Russian citizens. Visas should be refused where consulates identify security risks. Consulates should also deprioritise applicants travelling to the EU for non-essential reasons. The EU will remain open to those who need to be protected, like journalists, dissidents, human rights activists, and people travelling for family reasons.”

A longer and more thorough process for lodging applications

Consulates could adapt their procedures for handling short-stay visa applications lodged in Russia – making full use of the existing possibilities under the EU visa rules – to ensure greater scrutiny on applications given the heightened risks to the security and public order of Member States arising from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The expulsion of many Member States’ consular and diplomatic staff by the Russian authorities also calls for further adjustments to application procedures, as it means that consulates are operating with a significant reduction of capacity.

In this context, consulates can:

  • Deprioritise non-essential travel: Consulates should give lower priority to applicants who do not have an essential reason to travel, such as tourists, when attributing visa appointments.
  • Extend the period for deciding on visa applications: Consulates could take up to 45 days to take a decision on visa applications (against 15 days in regular cases) so as to ensure more thorough checks on applications lodged by Russians.
  • Request additional supporting documents: Member States’ consulates could request additional documents beyond the standard list, to ensure a high level of scrutiny, in particular in cases of possible threats to public policy, public order and international relations.

Enhanced scrutiny over visa applications and existing visas

Given the current security situation, Member States’ consulates should apply particular scrutiny when checking whether Russian citizens applying for short-stay visas could be considered to be a threat to public policy, internal security or to the international relations of any of the Member States. If this is the case, the visa should be refused, always on the basis of an individual assessment. Member States should also refuse a visa in case of doubt about the applicant’s intention to leave the EU’s territory upon expiry of the visa.

Similarly, Member States should also have a strict approach when reassessing valid short-stay visas already issued to Russian citizens. If it becomes evident that the conditions for issuing a visa are no longer met, for instance because the visa holder is now considered to represent a security threat, Member States should revoke the existing visa.

Member States should refrain from issuing multiple-entry visas with long validity, as Russian citizens may not meet the conditions for entering the EU in the long run, given the economic instability, the restrictive measures and political developments in Russia. In such cases, Member States should consider issuing single-entry visas or visas with shorter validity.

Under the EU visa rules, a Member State can also ask to be consulted before another Member State issues visas to Russian nationals, on grounds of threats to public policy, internal security or international relations. The consulted Member State can object to a Schengen visa being issued to a Russian national, on an individual basis. If issued, the visa would then be limited to the territory of the issuing Member State, and not grant access to the entire Schengen area. 

The EU will remain open to Russian visa applicants travelling for essential purposes, including notably family members of EU citizens, journalists, dissidents and civil society representatives. The guidelines support Member States in using the existing possibilities to cater for such cases. Under the visa rules, Member States can for instance decide to reduce or waive the visa fee in certain cases, which could help facilitate travel for journalists, dissidents, pupils, students and researchers.

Next Steps

The guidelines will support Member States and their consulates in handling visa applications lodged by Russian citizens and in implementing the full suspension of visa facilitations to Russian nationals.

Member States will regularly exchange information on the implementation of today’s guidelines, both at local level under the coordination of the EU Delegation to Russia, and at EU level via the Council’s working group dedicated to visa issues. This will help ensure a coordinated approach.

Member States will also regularly report to the Commission.

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Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia

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A group of internally displaced people due to the Tigray conflict gather in a site in Ethiopia's Afar region, Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Alessandro Pasta

Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.

The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.

“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.

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“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” 

Women and children in crosshairs

Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.  

Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.

“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.

Identifying victims

They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.

“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.

They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.

The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

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35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue

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A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.

The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.

Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg). 

Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:

  1. Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
  2. Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
  3. Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.

The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.

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Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent

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More than two years since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been only “piecemeal progress” in addressing systemic racism, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday, in a new report.While more people have been made aware of systemic racism and concrete steps have been taken in some countries, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights called on States to demonstrate greater political will to accelerate action.

“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part they are piecemeal. They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today,” said Nada Al-Nashif, who will present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

Triggering change

The report describes international, national and local initiatives that have been taken, towards ending the scourge of racism.

These include an Executive Order from the White House on advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies; an Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada; measures to evaluate ethnic profiling by police in Sweden; and census data collection to self-identify people of African descent in Argentina.

The European Commission has issued guidance on collecting and using data based on racial or ethnic origin; formal apologies issued, memorialization, revisiting public spaces, and research, to assess links to enslavement and colonialism in several countries.

‘Barometer for success’

The report notes that poor outcomes continue for people of African descent in many countries, notably in accessing health and adequate food, education, social protection, and justice – while poverty, enforced disappearance and violence continues.

It highlights “continuing…allegations of discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force, and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent by law enforcement officials”

The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent,” continued Ms. Al-Nashif.

“States need to listen to people of African descent, meaningfully involve them and take genuine steps to act upon their concerns.”

Higher death rates

Where available, recent data still points to disproportionately high death rates faced by people of African descent, at the hands of law enforcement, in different countries.

“Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives”, the report says.

It details seven cases of police-related deaths of people of African descent, namely George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (US); Adama Traoré (France); Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); Kevin Clarke (UK) and Janner [Hanner] García Palomino (Colombia).

While noting some progress towards accountability in a few of these emblematic cases, “unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion, with those families still seeking truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, and the prosecution and sanction of all those responsible,” the report says.

Ms. Al-Nashif called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism”.

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