Exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is seeking support from the European Union and individual European countries for a "New Belarus" passport for exiled citizens of her country whose official documents have expired.
The move is in response to a decree issued in September by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko ordering the nation’s consulates to stop renewing or extending passports, requiring citizens to return to Belarus if they want their documents renewed.
Hundreds of thousands of Belarus opposition supporters fled the country following the contested 2020 presidential election, in which Tsikhanouskaya challenged after her husband, opposition candidate Sergei Tikhanovsky, was jailed ahead of the vote. She is widely believed to have won that contest.
Months of protests followed the election, with Lukashenko — who has ruled Belarus since 1994 — eventually cracking down, jailing hundreds of opposition politicians and activists. Tsikhanouskaya herself fled shortly after the vote. She was tried in absentia for treason and sentenced to 15 years in jail.
She now lives in Lithuania, where she runs the Belarus opposition government in exile. Former Belarus diplomat Valery Kavaleuski works as her foreign affairs representative. He told The Associated Press that Lukashenko’s September decree puts at least 62,000 people in need of a new passport, meaning they are living in their new countries illegally.
Yet, they face persecution, jail and torture if they go back to Belarus.
Tsikhanouskaya first mentioned the idea of the New Belarus passports in a speech to the European parliament in March and urged European governments to recognize them. She told the French news agency, Agence France-Presse, she will be issuing the passports "very soon" and will be approaching them for their approval.
Kavaleuski told the AP that while no countries officially recognize the Belarus government in exile, many have expressed interest in the idea for the new passport, although he did not name which ones.
He said each EU country must decide whether to recognize it, saying it would "show solidarity with Belarusians" and "be a response to policies taken by Minsk."
Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.