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Migrant crisis triggers new round of sanctions against Belarus

Migrant crisis triggers new round of sanctions against Belarus

On December 2, 2021, in coordination with its US, EU, and UK allies, Canada announced new sanctions measures against Belarus under the Special Economic Measures (Belarus) Regulations, targeting 24 Belarusian individuals and seven entities. Companies should be updating their sanctions compliance policies to ensure they remain compliant with these latest Canadian, US, EU, and UK measures.

This is the third wave of Canadian sanctions against Belarus implemented this year alone. In June 2021, following a Ryanair diversion, Canada imposed restrictions on dealings with certain Belarusian individuals and entities (for more information see our previous alert here). These measures were strengthened in August 2021 with the adoption of broad sectoral and trade sanctions targeting important sectors of the Belarusian economy (see another alert here). Notably, these were the first such sectoral measures that had been imposed by Canada against any country within the last seven years.

During 2020, Canada also implemented several waves of sanctions measures against Belarus, along with the suspension of all new permits for the export, transfer or brokering of controlled goods and technology to the region.

Migrant crisis

The new Belarus sanctions were triggered by the migrant crisis at the Polish, Lithuanian, and Latvian borders. The crisis erupted in summer 2021 when thousands of Middle East migrants, mostly from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, flocked to locations along the Belarusian border with the European Union and were subsequently stranded in an attempt to cross the border. The majority of the migrants arrived in Belarus by air.

The crisis was allegedly orchestrated by Minsk as retaliation against EU economic sanctions. It is claimed that the Belarusian Government had lured the migrants to Belarus by granting visas through a simplified process and promising an easy pathway to the European Union. Belarus continues to deny engineering the crisis, even though President Lukashenko admitted Belarus might have helped the migrants get to the European Union’s eastern borders.[1]

New sanctions listings of individuals and entities

The new Canadian sanctions target 24 Belarusian individuals and seven entities, including a state-owned travel agency, Tsentrkurort, and several Belarusian officials who hold leadership positions in the Belarusian State Border Committee. This brings the total number of Canadian-sanctioned Belarusian parties to 96 individuals and 12 entities.

The newly listed entities are:

  • Tsentrkurort
  • Presidential Sports Club
  • Gardservis (originally called BelSecurityGroup)
  • BelTechExport
  • Peleng JSC
  • 140 Repair Plant
  • AGAT Electromechanical Plant

As with most of Canada’s economic sanctions measures, other than a name, there is no identifying information provided in the listings, such as aliases, addresses, residences or dates of birth. Because Canada’s allies, such as the United States, provide additional details on listed persons, reviewing those lists may be an option when trying to determine whether a counterparty is listed or owned or controlled by a listed individual or entity.

This is not always an effective solution since Canada often sanctions parties that are not listed by the United States or other allies, and Canadian enforcement authorities are obviously governed by Canadian sanctions laws and not those of other jurisdictions. If there is any uncertainty as to whether a counterparty is the same as a party on one of Canada’s sanctions lists (or owned or controlled by such a party), companies should consult with their sanctions counsel and/or Global Affairs Canada for further guidance.

Prohibitions against dealings involving listed persons

The Special Economic Measures (Belarus) Regulations prohibit the following activities directly or indirectly involving listed individuals and entities:

  • dealing in any property, wherever situated, that is owned, held or controlled by a listed person or by a person acting on behalf of a listed person;
  • entering into or facilitating any transaction related to such a dealing;
  • providing any financial or related services in respect of such a dealing;
  • making available any goods, wherever situated, to a listed person or to a person acting on behalf of a listed person; and
  • providing any financial or related services to or for the benefit of a listed person.

Further, these sanctions measures prohibit doing anything that causes, facilitates or assists in, or is intended to cause, facilitate or assist in, any of the prohibited activities.

Coordinated measures?

These actions were taken by Canada in coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. As noted in the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s press release, the designated persons “have enabled the regime’s migrant smuggling into the European Union (EU), have taken part in the ongoing crackdown on human rights and democracy, and have propped up the regime financially”.

Even though Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States claimed to have coordinated their actions against Belarus, the sanctions measures, including persons listed, as well as the spelling of their names, vary from country to country. An example of this would be Transaviaexport, a state-controlled cargo carrier in Belarus, that has recently been designated by the United States but is not a sanctioned entity in Canada. Another example is Mr. Lukashenko’s middle son, who has recently been listed as Dmitry Lukashenko in Canada and as Dzmitry Lukashenka in the United States.

Given the significant discrepancies in the sanctions regimes of Canada and its allies even when sanctions measures are apparently coordinated, it is crucial for firms to conduct their screening against the sanctions lists of each country that has jurisdiction over their transactions and other activities. In our investigations and enforcement experience, some of the most significant compliance issues have arisen where companies assumed that if they complied with one country’s measures (e.g., sanctions of the United States), that would be sufficient for compliance with the sanctions restrictions in other jurisdictions such as Canada. Compliance with only US and/or EU sanctions measures does not protect against exposure to Canadian sanctions risk.

Given quickly evolving developments in Belarus and the surrounding region, companies should be monitoring events closely to ensure that they remain compliant with all applicable economic sanctions measures.

The McCarthy Tétrault International Trade and Investment Law Group will continue providing updates on further developments in this area.


[1] See



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