Lying between the vast Asiatic steppe to the east and four EU members to the West, Ukraine is an ideal transit territory for illegal migrants. Much of its border with Russia consists of thick woods, while remote mountain paths connect the country to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.The migrants, often from South Asia and China, fly into Moscow on legitimate visas and then are taken by truck or van across the eastern Ukrainian border. Once in Ukraine, they either make it across the western border to the EU, get dumped to fend for themselves by the alien smugglers or are detained somewhere along the way to their destination.
In any case, migrants' documents are confiscated by the smugglers while still in Russia so as to conceal their paper trail as well as to relieve the Russian authorities of their responsibility for taking them back. This means that Ukraine must pay for the migrants' keep, although conditions at detention facilties are spartan. Ukraine must also foot deportation costs, as the embassies of the migrants' home countries are reluctant to do so.
With funds for such expenses in short supply on the part of cash-strapped Ukraine, it must be tempting for Ukrainian border guards and the police to simply let the migrants go free to either try to make it across the border into the EU or apply for asylum. In the interum, the migrant could very well find support among Ukraine's Asian expat community, so prominent at the country's outdoor markets. In any case, the aliens only see Ukraine as a temporary stopover on their way to Europe. Ukrainian authorities have even suggested that migrants are using Ukrainian colleges as a beachhead for their illegal entry into Europe.
"On the basis of legally obtained invitations to study in Kyiv, foreigners are coming who have no intention of studying here, but rather use the country as a transit zone on their way to Western Europe or to work here illegally," Kyiv Prosecutor Yevhen Blazhivsky told the Ukrainian broad sheet Zerkalo Nedeli in an interview published on July 6.
According to the Kyiv Prosecutor's Office, Kyiv is the country’s migrant capital, boasting 2,292 of the 13,489 illegals discovered in Ukraine last year. Prosecutors also claimed that illegals in Kyiv are increasingly likely to commit crimes. While in 2004, non-Ukrainian citizens were responsible for 133 crimes in Kyiv, in 2007, the figure rose to 607, with Azeris, Georgians and Chinese reported to be the most frequent offenders.
But most illegal aliens in Ukraine, at least those from further abroad, are just trying to get to Europe.
In the first quarter of this year alone, 929 illegal immigrants were caught trying to cross the western border, according to the State Border Service.
During the same period, 600 foreigners were deported from Ukraine, including 250 Moldovans, 52 Pakistanis and 49 Chinese.
A one-way ticket to India or Africa costs at least $700, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Border guards said there are currently around 560 people being held at temporary detention centers in Ukraine.
Ukraine is expected to open two new detention centers for illegal migrants this month – one in northern Chernihiv Region, which borders both Russia and Belarus, and the other in western Volyn Region. Local officials want the country's existing and overcrowded facility in Transcarpathia Region closed down. The new centers, which are scheduled to be finished this month, were funded by international organizations.
The EU has paid for sophisticated border detection equipment to beef up security at its border with Ukraine.
As of last December, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania are part of Europe’s passportfree Schengen zone, which means that the Ukrainian border is the last barrier for migrants on their way to Western Europe.
Cognizant of this fact, on July 8, EU interior ministers endorsed French President Nicolas Sarkozy's drive to establish common EU policies on immigration, refugees and asylum. The French scheme is expected to be confirmed at the EU summit in October.
But last month, the EU ended three years of quarelling over the deportation of illegal immigrants by finally agreeing legislation on how they should be sent home. Under the new legislation, illegals can be detained for 18 months and, once deported, barred from re-entering the EU for five years.
A readmission agreement that will oblige Ukraine to take back aliens that crossed its borders into the EU is scheduled to come into force in two years.
The EU, which boasts an estimated 8 million aliens, arrested more than 200,000 in the first half of 2007 but expelled less than half that figure.
Ukrainian human rights groups have recently expressed concerns that tougher EU laws would mean a flood of illegal migrants being pushed back on to the shoulders of the Ukrainian authorities. On the other hand, many of the migrants laboring in Europe are Ukrainian citizens.
According to the Kyiv office of the International Organization for Migration, around 3 million Ukrainians currently work abroad - two million in EU countries such as Italy Spain and Greece, but also Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.