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In Dialogue with Azerbaijan, Committee on Migrant Workers Asks about Irregular Migration and about Migrants in Detention Centres

05 October 2021

The Committee on Migrant Workers today concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of Azerbaijan on measures taken to implement the International Convention on the Protection of the Right of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, asking about irregular migration as well as about migrants in detention centres.

Committee Experts noted that Azerbaijan had been one of the first to join the Convention, praising progress in the country as well as efforts toward better protection of migrant workers in the country. Committee Experts underscored how important it was to use correct terminology when discussing migration, noting that the Committee used the word “irregular.” Human beings were not illegal, they were always legal. Migration was not an illegal act, but a migrant could be irregular.

Vusal Huseynov, Chief of the State Migration Service of Azerbaijan and head of the delegation, introducing the report, noted that the government had adopted new strategic documents, which envisaged improving the regulation processes around labour migration and the facilitation of visa issuing, among other goals. A unified database of information about foreigners, stateless persons, refugees and citizens living abroad had been integrated into the State registry of population. Insurance and pension systems provided reliable social protection for migrant workers, and there were no restrictions on migrant workers joining trade unions. As for education, all citizens were guaranteed the right to secondary education, and thousands of foreign and stateless students also studied at secondary schools. Legal labor migration was essential for the full protection of the rights of all migrant workers and their families, he said; Azerbaijan was ready to answer questions from Committee Experts.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked for detailed follow-up information on the situation of people said to be voluntarily staying in detention centres, questioning the concept of voluntary stays in such centres. They also asked for details about Azerbaijan’s work to promote the Covenant vis-à-vis countries it had partnerships with on matters pertaining to migrant workers, as well as details around its work permit and residence permit system.

The delegation of Azerbaijan was comprised of representatives of the Migration and Citizenship Issues Sector of the Department for Work with Law Enforcement Bodies of the Presidential Administration; the State Migration Service; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Population; the Ministry of Internal Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Azerbaijan at the end of its thirty-third session, which concludes on 8 October. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 6 October at 3 p.m. to hold an informal meeting with States and other stakeholders.

Report

The Committee has before it the third report of Azerbaijan (CMW/C/AZE/3).

Presentation of the Report

VUSAL HUSEYNOV, Chief of the State Migration Service of Azerbaijan and head of the delegation, introducing the report, said strategic documents adopted envisaged improving the labour migration process regulation system, the facilitation of the visa issuing process, and the prevention of illegal flows of foreign labour forces to Azerbaijan, among other goals. A draft migration strategy for the next few years had been prepared, whose general purpose was to ensure that the migration management model facilitated legal migration procedures and prevented irregular migration, while developing a protection system for vulnerable groups, among other goals.

In 2013, Azerbaijan’s Migration Code had come into force, which regulated migration processes and the legal status of foreigners and stateless persons. The legislation was based on the principles of respect for human rights and the rule of law, ensuring that Azerbaijan’s migration legislation was in line with international legal norms. Except for cases provided for in the Labour Code, migrant workers enjoyed the same rights as citizens in terms of working conditions and salaries. A unified database of information about foreigners, stateless persons, refugees and citizens living abroad had been integrated into the State registry of population. Legislation and procedures for obtaining work permits had been simplified.

Azerbaijan’s insurance and pension system provided reliable social protection for migrant workers, Mr. Huseynov said, adding that there were no restrictions on migrant workers joining trade unions. As for education, he noted that all citizens were guaranteed the right to secondary education, and that thousands of foreign and stateless students also studied at secondary schools; the Ministry of Education and the State Migration Service did not exchange information on the legal status of parents of foreign children studying in schools. Medical services in public medical institutions were free of charge, and migrants had access to emergency and special medical care without any restrictions or discrimination. All children born in the country were registered, regardless of the migration status of their parents.

As for matters of access to justice, Mr. Huseynov specified that foreigners and stateless persons could lodge complaints, and migrant workers could apply to judicial instances on the same grounds and conditions as citizens. Reviewing legislation around residence permits, he noted that foreigners who were victims of human trafficking or who assisted criminal investigation bodies were eligible for temporary residence permits, for example. There was also a working group established to eliminate statelessness in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijanis residing abroad were registered at the relevant consulates. Legal labor migration was essential for the full protection of the rights of all migrant workers and their families, he said, noting that an action plan on combating human trafficking had provided assistance to foreigners identified as victims. Azerbaijan was ready to answer questions from Committee Experts, he concluded.

Questions by the Committee Experts

PRASAD KARIYAWASAM, Committee Member, asked for further information about Azerbaijan’s National Strategy on Migration, including how it would incorporate all the other measures taken so far. What were the provisions envisaged for vaccinating migrants and members of their families against COVID-19? Mr. Kariyawasam asked about the large number of Azerbaijani nationals working in the Russian Federation. How many consulates were there, and did Azerbaijan provide its nationals in detention with free legal representation? He underscored the crucial importance of correct nomenclature when speaking about migration. The delegation had used the word “illegal,” but the Committee used the word “irregular.” Human beings were not illegal, they were always legal. Migration was not an illegal act, but the process could be illegal, and a migrant could be irregular. What measures had Azerbaijan taken to ensure low costs when remittances were sent from abroad? If there was a difference between a work permit and a residence permit in Azerbaijan, what was the purpose of the difference?

CAN ÜNVER, Committee Chair, asked about Azerbaijan citizens in other countries. Was there a strategy in place when working with the other countries? Which measures had Azerbaijan taken to promote the ratification of the Convention in neighbouring countries? The human rights treaty body system was undergoing some changes, in the light of late reports from State parties and other challenges; would Azerbaijan consider creating a body specifically designed to coordinate communication with the human rights treaty bodies, a measure taken in other countries?

Recalling the examination last week of the report of Azerbaijan by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a Committee Expert noted an unanswered question on whether migrant workers were socially protected. There was also information about an energy company violating employees’ rights, could the delegation provide clarification? Concerning detention centers, there was information on migrants and convicts being housed together in a center, was that the case? The Expert further inquired about criminalisation of migrant workers who did not have the relevant papers to enter the country.

ALVARO BOTERO NAVARRO, Committee Member, asked about the current status of detention facilities in Azerbaijan. What was the legal basis for detaining migrants in the State party? How did Azerbaijan guarantee that migrants in vulnerable situations, such as children, were not detained? Another aspect was the status of the stateless people, especially those who had only former Soviet passports, and couldn’t prove to which successor State they belonged. What were the mapping initiatives Azerbaijan was taking to gather information about stateless people in the country?

KHALED CHEIKHNA BABACAR, Committee Member, asked for details about the relationship between the Migration Code and the Labour Code when it came to the protection of workers. Why was there confusion between a residence and a work permit? Migrant workers were already in a precarious situation, and they could risk expulsion due to that.

A Committee Expert noted that Azerbaijan was a country of destination for migrant workers from countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. What were universities doing in terms of publications on migration processes?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the drafting of the National Strategy had begun two years ago, with the participation of all stakeholders in the process. The adoption of the strategy would have a positive impact on regulations concerning migrant workers. For the last 50 years, no significant documents had been adopted on that matter. The new framework would help coordination between institutions. Concerning COVID-19 vaccination, the delegation explained that the process had started quite early, and initially, all permanent residents could be vaccinated. Now, all foreigners residing in Azerbaijan could be vaccinated in the country.

Regarding Azerbaijani citizens living abroad, the delegation said there were three Azerbaijani institutions which dealt with their issues and provided support to them. There were specific procedures Azerbaijani citizens abroad could refer to in order to report any issues concerning employment and labour conditions. Regarding remittances, every citizen could benefit from mechanisms around them; a project aimed to improve conditions for migrants to send remittances back to their countries.

The delegation pointed out that the database used for storing information on migrants operated well. The reason there was a difference between work and residence permits was the fact that not all who wanted to live in Azerbaijan also wanted to work. However, a work permit automatically gave rights to a residence permit. Azerbaijan was in the habit of creating task forces to deal with specific problems. A good example was the task force created to report to the United Nations human rights treaty bodies, which coordinated answers and country reports of Azerbaijan.

Detention centers in Azerbaijan were closely monitored by the Ombudsman and civil society organisations. Separate buildings were provided for people staying at the centers on a voluntary versus compulsory basis. In general, the living standards in the centers were high, as confirmed through the reports of external observers. Exit bans were of a technical nature, and in no way it stopped people from leaving the country. Fines or imprisonment could be handed down for illegally crossing borders, but asylum seekers were not subject to criminal liability. Stateless persons could apply to Azerbaijan’s embassies for passports, and based on the paperwork provided or investigations carried out by the authorities, they could apply for citizenship. Changes and amendments to the citizenship procedure had allowed more people to receive Azerbaijani citizenship. The State migration service carried out different campaigns throughout the country to identify stateless people.

Comparing the Migration and the Labour Code, the delegation explained that one of the main differences was that the granting of work permits was regulated by the Migration Code, whereas general employment regulations were outlined by the Labour Code. Azerbaijan was indeed often used as a transit country, but the Migration Code regulated transit as well. So far, there had been no tension on Azerbaijan’s borders due to the crisis in Afghanistan.

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts asked for further information about the numbers of foreign residents in Azerbaijan. Could the delegation provide further information about the safety of its centralised database? Was it vulnerable to corruption? Concerns were expressed about human trafficking; what measures were taken by the State party against that, and to help victims of trafficking? Did Azerbaijan have a strategy to promote the Convention to other countries that had not yet joined? The Committee also asked about activities to promote the Convention throughout the country. What measures were taken to ensure migrants had equal access to the justice system, including migrants who were no longer in the country?

Replies by the delegation

The delegation explained that the legislation which applied to child labour in Azerbaijan was in accordance with intenational standards, and was equally applicable to migrants and citizens. The digital databases could indeed be subject to online attacks, so the necessary software protection was in place. The resource provided for real-time statistics on migration in Azerbaijan. There were universities which dealt with migration issues, and other projects developed by the government and civil society organisations.

Together with international partners, Azerbaijan was working on a two-year project to develop a training center where migration education could be taught to regional officials. A curriculum and roadmaps were being developed for the project. The idea was to create migration specialists, but also to have a center that could be used as a laboratory for good ideas. There were agreements in place with the European Union, but also with the Swiss Federation, Norway and Montenegro. Azerbaijan tried to benefit from these partnerships, and the delegation expressed satisfaction with the level of cooperation with its partners.

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts

PRASAD KARIYAWASAM, Committee Member, asked how migrants were treated at the borders of Azerbaijan. Was there a tendency to criminalise migration, globally? Migrants were not criminals; they had various reasons for coming, including climate change. Therefore, it was important to train border officials on that matter. Mr. Kariyawasam also expressed concerns about the use of the word “illegal” to describe migrants in Azerbaijan. Regarding trade unions, were the necessary measures taken to give equal access to migrants? Were there systems to monitor such situations?

EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Member, noted that Azerbaijan could impose a fine or imprisonment on people crossing the border illegally. That was to say that there was a problem with the legislation in Azerbaijan, which needed to be changed. Other legal texts also appeared to disagree with the Convention and other international legislation concerning migration.

ALVARO BOTERO NAVARRO, Committee Member, also asked for further details on the procedure for detaining migrants. The Committee had reports of cases or situations of discrimination against Armenian people in Azerbaijan. What were the affirmative or positive measures Azerbaijan took to prevent discrimination against Armenians or any other people?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation clarified some details regarding the use of the word “illegal” to describe migration in Azerbaijani legislation. If the person crossing the border was a person who was seeking asylum, or there were other reasons for migration, the cases were considered and analysed by officials who were trained and treated the cases accordingly. The legislation was written only to protect the territory of Azerbaijan. Still, the delegation agreed that the use of the word “illegal” to describe migrants should be looked at.

Azerbaijan had long traditions with active trade unions. The activities of trade unions was coordinated by a central institution, to which each of them could raise their concerns. Migrants could benefit from that system as well. Medical services were free of charge in Azerbaijan, and all migrants could benefit from that, just like any other citizen. Regarding detention, according to the law, persons could indeed be detained up to six months by migration officers, but in practice, there were no cases of people who remained in detention centers for such a long period of time. Statistics also showed that a large proportion of migrants in detention centers were there voluntarily due to social need.

Azerbaijan had a very low level of xenophobia toward migrants. The country was rather tolerant, and respectful to different languages and cultures. Regarding the Armenian population in Azerbaijan, there was no specific negative treatment observed. There were over 90,000 migrant workers, together with their families in Azerbaijan. The government was in the process of reaching readmission agreements in the future with more countries, including the Russian Federation, India, and many others. Azerbaijan was also working on a project to train public officials, as well as digitising data, concerning readmission. All citizens, and migrants and foreigners, had equal access to the judiciary system. They had the right to legal protection. According to statistics, there were over 93,000 Azerbaijani nationals in the Russian Federation, and the consulates of Azerbaijan had the capability to assist their citizens there.

The delegation gave detailed information on various training programmes that were organised in Azerbaijan by the government, and in partnership with international institutions. The training programmes involved judges, lawyers, and academia. Participants were trained on the subject of migration law, human trafficking, sex discrimination, labour rights, children’s and women’s rights and other subjects were part of the training programs. Azerbaijan also published a number of textbooks and reports on the subject of migration. According to Azerbaijani legislation, birth registration could not be limited on the basis of discrimination. Electronic registration, through the integrated information system, was incorporated in Azerbaijan. Once a child was born, he or she was immediately registered electronically and received a unique identification number.

The delegation noted that, according to statistics, no migrant workers had been identified among the victims of human trafficking. Country-wide campaigns against human trafficking aimed to raise awareness against it. All victims were allocated rehabilitation, regardless of their intention to cooperate or not with the authorities. Victims of human trafficking were provided with access to special centers where they had decent living conditions, including food, medical and psychological support. There were also administrative procedures in place to assist victims of human trafficking. A number of important challenges to that work included ensuring the cooperation of all stakeholders to enhance the fight against human trafficking.

Child labour was not often observed in Azerbaijan, but there were monitoring mechanisms in place against it. An electronic system stored all employment contracts, and the contracts were monitored. Contracts with children under the age of 18 years were subject to a detailed analysis. Children who were in detention centres of the migration service had access to libraries and playgrounds. The centers were monitored by national and international organizations to ensure they met all relevant standards. Azerbaijan also provided financial assistance to internally displaced persons, to ensure their enjoyment of all their human rights. Clear statistics on the numbers of Azerbaijani citizens abroad could not be produced.

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts asked for information on the impact the conflict in Nagorno- Karabakh had on the situation of migrants. They also questioned the concept of voluntary stays by migrants in detention centers, asking whether it could be because they simply did not have a better option? Committee Experts also asked for clarifications on the rights of stateless people in Azerbaijan.

Follow-up Replies by the Delegation

In response to the question about the impact of the conflict, the delegation said that over one million people had become refugees or internally displaced persons. In the migration context, internal migration was negatively influenced. Turning to questions about detention centers, the delegation explained that the detention center had three buildings. Voluntary residents stayed in the first building. When a person was defined as an irregular migrant but had no place to stay, they were given the opportunity to stay in the first building, and could leave when they chose to. Azerbaijan cooperated with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Regarding statelessness, the Government was taking measures to decrease the numbers of people in that situation. There were different reasons why people ended up in that situation. The delegation confirmed its readiness to cooperate with all relevant international partners on matters of migration.

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts

The Committee Experts asked about the initiatives undertaken by the government of Azerbaijan to have a dialogue on promoting the Convention with countries who had not yet ratified the Convention, such as Afghanistan. They also inquired about migrants facing expulsion from the country shortly after losing their jobs. Were there any appeal mechanisms against that decision? The Committee also asked for details about social benefits and recruitment agencies in Azerbaijan.

Follow-up Replies by the Delegation

The delegation noted that Azerbaijan had been among the first States to join the Convention. Regarding developments in Afghanistan, there hadn’t been a case on Azerbaijan’s borders of an Afghan citizen asking for asylum. In general, such applications would be received electronically, and Azerbaijan would consider such appeals. Azerbaijan was committed to adhering to its obligations under international law.

Concluding Remarks

VUSAL HUSEYNOV, Chief of the State Migration Service of Azerbaijan and head of the delegation, expressed the delegation’s gratitude for the constructive dialogue and the questions raised during the meeting. Azerbaijan would consider the recommendations given by the Committee to correct the wording in national legislation, and toward improving some aspects of the way work was organized in the country, as well as promoting the Convention and working to expand its area of implementation. Azerbaijan was on the eve of taking comprehensive measures concerning internally displaced people. One positive initiative was the establishment of a working group which aimed to ensure the supervision of preparations of periodic reports within the relevant United Nations framework. The delegation was looking forward to further working together with the Committee on further developing migration processes in Azerbaijan.

Committee Experts thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, which provided further insight into the situation of migrant workers in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis abroad. Azerbaijan was indeed one of the first countries to join the Convention. Azerbaijan’s progress was visible and admirable. The dialogue had seen many issues touched upon, even some political issues. Migration was a dynamic matter; it was constantly changing and new issues were coming into consideration. Therefore, constant improvement of legislation was needed globally, regionally and nationally.