Passport needs respect
With modern technology visas remain the only truly serious obstacle for movement around the world
With modern technology — including high-speed Internet access and intercontinental flights — visas remain the only truly serious obstacle for movement around the world. Most of the borders are now open to a German passport, a total of 177 countries. British company Henley & Partners has placed it top of its annual rating of the most respected passports, which ranks using the number of states where the owner of the document can go without a visa or receive it directly at the border. The USA occupies fourth position (with 174 countries free to visit). What is the status of our Belarusian passport?
According to the Foreign Ministry, Belarusians can travel to 41 countries without visas. The list is not the longest, but it is extremely varied — including neighbouring Russia and Ukraine, distant Peru, Namibia and Vanuatu, and the Pacific island state of Melanesia (situated around 15,000km away from Minsk). As a rule, countries set a time limit for citizens who arrive without visas: in Vanuatu, Turkey, Cuba and Malaysia, Belarusians can stay up to 30 days; in Venezuela, Mongolia, Tunisia and Nicaragua — up to 90; in Panama — up to 180. In Israel, they can stay without a visa up to 90 days in every six months. Some countries offer more specific conditions: Dominica is ready to welcome a Belarusian visiting for tourist purposes for the maximum of 21 days and on the condition that the return ticket has already been purchased. In some countries, it’s possible to get a visa on arrival: among them are Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Qatar. This list may change and the Foreign Ministry recommends that visitors clarify the situation before departure.
Looking at the list as whole, it’s evident that a Belarusian passport offers many opportunities for travellers. Our citizens are more often turning to such hospitable countries for leisure: the number of Belarusian tourists to Vietnam has increased by 65 percent after a visa free regime was introduced for Belarusian citizens on July 1st, 2015. Belarus attracts foreigners in the same way. After the introduction of a visa free regime (for up to three days) for visiting the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, this natural treasure has been appreciated by guests from 28 countries — including Indonesia and the Philippines. Overall, during the year of the visa free regime, it was attended by over 4,000 foreign tourists. Sometimes entering Belarus without visas is linked to conditions: Chinese visitors can stay up to three days in the country if they’ve come by direct flights from China and have valid Schengen visas. In addition, those coming from Montenegro for up to 30 days need to have the backing of a tourist company or an invitation.
The rating of Henley & Partners in the eyes of laymen reflects not so much the ephemeral authority of passports but the comfort of travelling without starting with a queue at the embassy. However, British experts do not consider the convenience of getting a foreign passport, in Belarus the document is carried everywhere for identification. “A single passport for internal procedures and for travels abroad was used to facilitate citizens’ travels and make them cheaper. We had a period of waiting for the implementation of biometric technologies in our national documents. Some countries have changed 3-4 different types of biometric passports, strengthening their data protection; this is very expensive. We’ve been waiting until the appropriate technologies become cheaper. In line with global trends, we are now introducing biometric technology into our national documents, scheduled for 2018,” the Head of Citizenship and Migration Department at Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Alexey Begun, says. “They will include documents for travelling abroad and those for identification: a residence permit or an ID-card. This is international practice: when the country uses an identity card with detailed personal information and a separate passport for foreign travels. The latter also contains biometric information but does not disclose personal data. These passports have more degrees of protection.”
It’s possible to use the old paper passports until their expiry. Those who wish to be the first to receive the new documents in 2018 will need to get an ID-card first and then a passport with the biometric data. Who knows, maybe new technologies will promote our document in the rankings.
Germany leads the list of the most authoritative passports for the third year in a row. According to the Henley & Partners rating, citizens of Sweden (placed second) can travel to 176 countries without visas. Residents of Finland, France, Italy, Spain and the UK share the 3rd place: 175 countries are available for them. Fourth place is occupied by the USA, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, while fifth position is shared by Austria, Japan and Singapore (173 states).
The rating is completed by Afghanistan (25 countries) — followed by Pakistan (29), Iraq (30), Somalia (31) and Syria (32).
Alexander Matsukov, the Councillor at the Foreign Ministry’s Chief Consular Department:
Firstly, Belarus is seeking to conclude agreements on visa free travel on a reciprocal basis, when foreigners can visit our county without visas and Belarusians enjoy similar preferences. Experience tells us that a state is led by self-interest when offering free entry, economic, humanitarian and others. The visa free regime for citizens of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates is based on the fact that these countries are of interest to us for the development of economic relations: the decision was taken unilaterally. The tourist aspect matters as well: in October, foreigners coming from the territory of Poland and Lithuania will be able to visit the Avgustovsky Canal Park free of charge (for up to five days). With regard to bilateral agreements on the visa free regime, this is a focus of the Foreign Ministry’s work in the consular sector. This year, an agreement with Macao — a special administrative region of China — was signed envisaging visa free trips for up to 30 days. An agreement has also been signed with Brazil on the mutual abolition of visas for travels for up to 90 days. These are expected to come into force within two months. An agreement has been concluded with Estonia on mutual simplification of the entry and stay order and talks on the abolition of visas with China’s Hong Kong, Argentina and the ‘much-loved-by-tourists’, Thailand are now underway. In the longer term, the visa free regime is planned for Honduras and Singapore. This is a rather complex two-way process: it’s important to develop mutual positions at the level of all the Belarusian and foreign governmental agencies involved. The success of them is later reported by the Foreign Ministry through diplomatic channels.
Pole of scientific attraction
By Nina Gorbat
In November, our polar researchers will travel to the ice continent for the ninth time, taking parts for the second module and lots of oranges! The head of the Belarusian Antarctic expedition, Alexey Gaidashov, describes how to survive at the end of the Earth.
The team comprises six polar researchers, with four of these visiting the remote continent for the first time. Under extreme conditions, they will implement the assembly of the second module of the Belarusian Antarctic Station. They will be living and working in the first module, constructed last year. It is located where it will be protected from snow storms. The construction can withstand temperatures to minus 60 degrees and wind strength to 80 metres per second. Inside the building, the temperature is a comfortable 20-25 degrees. The build has reached down to the permafrost, with polar researchers boasting contemporary equipment, computers, household appliances and shower cubicles. Moreover, as the researchers say, a sauna is indispensable in the sub-zero conditions.
“This is our foothold on the ice continent,” notes Alexey Gaidashov, explaining the benefits of the Belarusian Antarctic station. “It will enable our country to receive the status of a consultative body in the Treaty on the Antarctic and join the international organisation that is conducting scientific research on the white continent. The most important thing is that we’ll be able to send more staff and conduct further research.”
Structures for the second module will be sent starting from late October. These will be delivered in four containers by sea, with each weighing no more than 4.5 tonnes. This is the optimal weight able to be carried by helicopter. After that, in November, a crew of polar researchers will arrive, they will travel most of the way on the Russian scientific-expedition ship, Academician Fedorov.
Six Belarusians will have to conduct huge amounts of scientific work in the extreme cold. Our country’s scientific interest in the Antarctic is considerable: from researches in the sphere of atmospheric physics, meteorology and climatology to studying marine animals and plants of the white continent. Observations are conducted for the benefit of the national space programme. Data from scientific observations are promptly transferred to the chief scientific organisations of the country.
The Belarusian team will stay in the Antarctic until March. The housewarming will not be celebrated for several years when more living facilities and laboratories have been added, including a reservoir for fuel (its transportation to the South Pole has increased approximately 10-fold). An electricity station will also be installed, as the capacity of the previous generators isn’t enough. Solar batteries help save energy; they work during the summer Antarctic season which lasts from December to February.
By Anton Kostyukevich