Abkhazia: “Cards” Instead of Visas for Abkhazian NGO Delegates en-route to Conference in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Abkhazian delegates refused visas and given “cards” by Lithuanian authorities after waiting for over 13 hours at Vilnius airport.
Below is an article published by Abkhazworld:
Last night a group of Abkhazian and South Ossetian representatives of non-governmental organisations arrived in Vilnius to attend an international conference under UN auspices. Unexpectedly, at the airport the delegates were refused visas in their Russian passports. As a result of the proceedings, the people were kept waiting in the arrivals’ area of Vilnius airport for thirteen hours. I contacted a delegate from Abkhazia, Roin Agrba, and a representative of the Ossetian delegation, Elona Plaeva.
- Roin, I understand that you are now in Lithuania. Can you tell me for what purpose you went there?
- We arrived here to attend an international conference, funded by the United Nations Development Programme. Invitations to the conference were issued to the three delegations: South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia; three representatives from each country. The programme is very intense. But we had problems from the very first day when we flew in to Vilnius, in spite of the fact that we had in hand a letter from the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Egidijus Meylunas, with the following text: "These persons are en route to Vilnius to participate in an international conference, funded by the UN Development Programme. We ask for your cooperation and all possible assistance in connection with their journey.” There is also mention there that on 27 June Schengen visas would be issued to us at the airport. But we were kept at the airport for 13 hours, although the Georgian delegation arrived after us from Kiev, and they had their visas issued without problems. We, on the other hand, were offered only some sort of cards.
- Why were you expecting to be issued with visas only on arrival? Was there such an agreement?
- Initially, we were preparing for the necessary acquisition of visas at the embassy in Moscow, but, at the last moment, they changed the programme, and it was decided to accelerate our departure. We were told that we would be provided with visas on the spot at the airport. On the Russian side, all the customs and border-guard services let us through, since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania took upon itself the obligation to provide us with visas on the spot.
- What was the reason for the delay exactly? Didn’t they wish to issue you with visas?
- They just gave us some sort of "cards". In their words, this is a temporary entry, and we shall have no problems. So, we are in possession of some “cards”, and it seems this was sufficient to gain us entry into the country. The issue was raised at foreign minister level – the whole of last night there were calls and the like, but no-one was able clearly to explain why we, the citizens of Russia, were denied having a visa stamped in our passports. In fact, the conference itself was threatened with a breakdown, because the two parties decided there in the airport, without leaving the area, to turn around and go back. They dissuaded us, saying that would sort out the matter. But if there will be no visa, we shall tomorrow (29, June, 2011) boycott the conference.
Now the representative of the delegation from Ossetia will speak. My name is Elona, surname Plaeva. I am the representative for Ossetia at the event. We were refused the visa stamp in our passports and were offered some kind of certificate. Earlier, according to employees of the border-controls, such visas have not been issued. The relevant order was issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All four of us are citizens of the Russian Federation. I am a resident of North Ossetia, which has no problems to do with recognition or non-recognition by the international community. I myself am a lawyer, engaged in advocacy, and I deem the issuing of such certificates to be illegal. We arrived to address global issues related to Ossetian-Georgian-Abkhazian relations, expecting that this event would be conducted without any political and other pressures. And what will become of us, if suddenly the document is lost or, let’s be frank, if it would be taken away from us? In fact, one could be charged with being illegally present on the territory of the European Union.