Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has recently implemented a ban on citizens renewing their passports while residing abroad. This decision puts pressure on those who have fled the country, amidst an escalating crackdown, to return in order to maintain their travel documents.
Over the past three years, an estimated 200,000-300,000 Belarusians have left the country following mass protests against the elections that resulted in Lukashenko’s reappointment. These protests were met with a harsh political opposition crackdown.
The decree issued by Lukashenko stipulates that the renewal of a Belarusian passport is only permissible for individuals who were registered residents before leaving the country.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, an opposition leader who fled to Lithuania after contesting Lukashenko in the 2020 election, cautioned her fellow citizens not to return to Belarus even if their passports expire, as it could subject them to persecution.
She highlighted that Poland and Lithuania offer “foreigners’ passports” to Belarusians, allowing them to remain in these countries.
The human rights organization “Viasna” estimates that more than 1,500 individuals are currently imprisoned as political prisoners in Belarus.
Since the August 2020 presidential vote, journalists and activists in Belarus have faced severe repression, initiated by Lukashenko’s sixth presidential term.