Azerbaijan, Baku, Oct. 22 /Trend, E.Huseynli/
Trend interviews Fuad Alasgarov, Head of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration's Department for Coordination of Law Enforcement Agencies.
Trend: A number of issues related to migration, in particular the introduction of changes into the procedure of issuing visas at the Baku airport have been actively debated in the society and press over recent days. The interest in this topic is understandable, and I think that additional information would be useful.
Fuad Alasgarov: The matter is that the migration processes cause an intense interest not only in our country, but also in the whole world. The mobility of population has increased globally recently and the migration flows have become one of the major factors influencing the social picture in some countries and in entire regions. This is a multifaceted phenomenon, which has both positive and negative consequences.
Many migration flows pass through our country as well. From this point of view, the situation in Azerbaijan essentially differs even from the situation in other South Caucasus countries. Therefore, we must carefully analyze migration processes and trends, and make every possible effort to turn them to the good of our country, as well as to minimize their adverse effects. This is a strategic task, which is reflected in the National Security Concept of Azerbaijan and in other conceptual documents. Thus our country has been conducting serious work on regulation of migration.
Q: Could we regard the change of the visa procedures at the Baku airport as part of this work?
A: Absolutely. This is an important step, but this is just one of the measures directed at regulating migration, and it should be understood exactly in this light. In my recent interviews on this topic I have noted that these changes will allow preventing illegal migration, as well as terrorism and other illegal activities more effectively. However, it would be so naive to believe that sole changes in the visa procedures at the airport can prevent the entry of illegal migrants and criminals to our country. But this is an additional mechanism, which jointly with others will increase the effectiveness of combating law-breakers. We realistically approach these issues and apply a comprehensive systematic approach to regulation of migration and combating international organized criminality.
Q: You said in your recent interview that only about 12,000 people have stayed in Azerbaijan from almost 1.5 million entrants into the country. Do such statistics justify the innovations that were made in the visa procedure?
A: It is not about 12,000, but almost 120,000 foreigners who stayed in our country for the first nine months of 2010. And this is a large number. Apparently, it was simply a misprint. Although based on that misprint in the published interview, the author of another article made an incorrect conclusion that there was no necessity to change visa procedures at the airport.
However, the undeniable fact is that timely taken preventive measures significantly increase the effectiveness of measures in any field, including combating illegal migration and international crime. This is perfectly understood in Europe and in the United States, and in many other states which apply very serious check-up procedures when considering applications for entry visas.
In this regard, we cannot agree with the view that the visa regime, which is carried out in the EU countries, is well justified, since many people try to "by hook or by crook" get into the economically developed and socially prosperous European countries, and that the changes in the visa procedures in Azerbaijan are not justified because the main flow of illegal migrants does not come from Europe, but from countries with which we have a visa-free regime.
First of all, the recent changes in visa procedure are not directed against persons arriving from Europe, and generally speaking they are not directed against anyone. They are aimed at ensuring the national interests of Azerbaijan. I remind that at the Baku airport, visas are issued not only to nationals of European states, but also to nationals of many other countries. Here is an example: over the first nine months of this year, 1,306 Pakistani nationals arrived in Azerbaijan, of whom 619 have stayed in our country. During the same nine months, 422 Pakistanis have been deported from the country: only for one day, October 20, three Pakistani nationals had been deported from Azerbaijan because of breaking the migration legislation. And there are many similar examples.
Now when the role of Azerbaijani embassies and consulates in the process of issuing visas has increased, a lot of similar cases can be avoided. I would like to remind that today we have 59 embassies and 12 consulates, covering all important directions - Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa.
Q: What could you tell about the directions in which Azerbaijan applies a visa-free regime? I mean the CIS and Central Asian countries.
A: Existence of a visa-free regime with these countries does not mean that the migration processes in these directions remain unregulated. There is a system for registration of foreigners and stateless persons' stay in Azerbaijan. This system includes "Entry-Exit and Registration" Interagency Automated Information and Search System (IAISS) and Unified Migration Information System. These two systems are mutually integrated. Once a person enters the country, his/her passport number, country of departure, the order of entry (visa or visa-free), the date of intended departure from Azerbaijan and other relevant data are recorded in IAISS. The law also sets deadlines for aliens and stateless persons' stay in the country. The length of stay in Azerbaijan for persons who enter within a visa-free regime is limited to 90 days. After this period expires, these persons must leave the country or obtain a permit for further stay. All foreigners and stateless persons who enter the country for more than 30 days are required to be registered, within 3 days, by the Ministry of Interior upon their places. Persons breaching this rules are subject to sanctions, including deportation.
I want to mention another important factor concerning the interests of our country and citizens. The fact is that the agreements on visa-free regime between Azerbaijan and other countries are based on the principle of reciprocity. This means that our citizens can enjoy visa-free regime to visit the countries with which we have concluded such agreements.
The same concerns the Agreement on mutual use of visas between the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Government of the Republic of Turkey, which was approved by the Law dated 4 November 2003. Today, one of the grounds to issue visas in our airport is the existence of international agreements, which envisage issuing such visas. Therefore, the Turkish citizens should not be worried, the visa procedure for them at Baku airport have remained unchanged.
However, the situation with other countries, whose citizens could obtain visas at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport, is different. Such agreements have not been concluded with them, so our citizens have to obtain visas to these countries in a usual manner, i.e. through the embassies of countries accredited in Azerbaijan. If there is no embassy in our country, they have to apply to the relevant embassies in neighboring countries. So, I hope that the changes in the visa procedure in Azerbaijan will also lead to conclusion of bilateral agreements with other countries on visa regulation on the basis of the principle of reciprocity.
Q: Are there other reasons for changes in migration legislation, rather than the goals of regulating migration processes and ensuring the country's security? Some media voice the opinion that these changes are connected with the upcoming elections, the unwillingness to allow international observers into the country, to be precise.
A: I cannot agree with such view. Azerbaijan has officially invited international organizations to send observers for parliamentary elections. They will not have any problems with entry to our country. To avoid any misunderstanding, active work is being conducted with international organizations, as well as with representatives of airlines carrying out flights to Azerbaijan, and with other related sides.
As regards the opinion that the change would adversely affect the activities of NGOs, which intend to observe the elections, and the activities of foreign media outlets, I would like to note that the changes to the migration legislation have been published on 14 September, nearly two months before the elections. Therefore, everyone had enough time to get a visa at the embassies of Azerbaijan. Regarding the media reports, I must say that many foreign media outlets have representations in our country or have concluded agreements with local partners, and they should not have any problems with coverage of events in Azerbaijan.
I am therefore sure that the changes will only improve the situation and assure orderliness in the field of migration and security, and will have no negative consequences for people who wish to visit our country in the procedure specified by law.