This year, 10 years have gone by since simplified border crossing for residents of Latvia and Belarus border has been in force.
“This agreement was intended to strengthen both family and cultural and historical and religious links between the border residents,” said Pāvels Rogožins, head of the State Border Guard's Daugavpils Office border control and immigration control service.
According to him, the agreement concerned those living within a radius of 50 kilometers from the border. Demonstrating that they have any property, relatives, or cultural or socio-economic links on the other side of the border , they could be authorized to visit the neighboring country for up to 90 days within a half-year period. Several simplified border crossing points were dedicated to this.
“There were four places under our supervision: Meikšāni, Vorzova, Piedruja and Kaplava. These were places where the border could be crossed directly by border residents, at their request. At the beginning of the Covid, these places were closed."
For example, the Kaplava control post, which is currently closed, was visited by 150 to 200 persons per month on average before the pandemic.
In total, over the past ten years, the Belarusian consulate has issued over 70 thousand simplified crossing permits. The lists were created by Latgale municipalities located in the Belarus border area.
The largest customer range was from Daugavpils City. In the past, around 7000 citizens received these permits every year, whereas in recent years and particularly recently, the number has fallen significantly, said Maija Frolova, administrator of Daugavpils Municipal Information Office.
"These permits were issued for one year, every year people had to renew them. The adoption of documents took place three times a year. There were 1300 people between March and June in 2019 and gradually only got fewer. This year, there have been 614."
“On April 15, Belarus introduced visa-free regime, and by the end of the year Latvian citizens can enter Belarus without a visa. Therefore, the suspension of this agreement on the crossing of the simplified border did not affect the ability and opportunity for our citizens to travel to the Republic of Belarus," said Rogožins.
Many are still choosing to go to Belarus, despite calls by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to do this, he added.
"Statistics show that between April and June the flow of border users increased and reached 20 thousand per month, then from July this flow gradually began to decrease, and in September there were already only 12,000 of our citizens who wanted to travel to Belarus for a variety of reasons. Mostly, they use the opportunity to visit their relatives and also to shop," Rogožins said.
The Belarusian citizens with the simplified crossing permit will be affected, as they cannot travel visa-free. There are very few such citizens in Latvia, according to the State Border Guard, and they must leave Latvia immediately.
“On Monday, an agreement was suspended between the governments of the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Belarus on the simplification of journeys between people of border areas. Consequently, since Monday, the Belarusian citizens who had received such an authorization have been denied this possibility and this authorization cannot be used to cross the border. At the moment, according to the information we have, we have eight such Belarusian citizens on our territory. These numbers are not large and do not pose a significant immigration risk. But basically, these citizens are already illegally staying in our country. In line with our legislation on exit, an administrative infringement process will be initiated. One such case has already occurred. So far, we are limited to warnings, given that people might not have known about these changes. Therefore, the Latvian Border Guard currently calls on those Belarusian citizens who have entered Latvia [with a simplified crossing permit] to leave the territory of the Republic of Latvia without delay.”
According to statistics, last year nearly 1,500 border residents of Latvia and 14 Belarusians received the simplified border crossing permit.