VDL sparks fury with migration deal for Poland – EU chief urged to explain ‘weak’ decision

Belarus-Poland: Migrants detained attempting border crossing

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The proposal saw the Commission making a gesture towards member states Poland, Lithuania and Latvia – even as Brussels acknowledged border tensions were easing. The EU says Belarus has flown in migrants from the Middle East to push them to cross the border, accusations Minsk calls absurd. Rights groups say at least 13 people have died as migrants have camped in freezing conditions at the border.

Ylva Johansson, EU Home Affairs Commissioner, said the crisis appeared to have subsided in recent weeks, with Belarus sending 1,900 migrants back to Iraq and moving others back from the border.

She said: “Even though the situation is de-escalating, we have to stay vigilant.

“The numbers are not high. This is not primarily a migration crisis. This is a hybrid threat.”

She said around 8,000 migrants are now in the three border countries.

Germany, the preferred final destination for many who get into EU, reported some 10,000 people had arrived that way.

The three EU countries that border Belarus have defended their approach of pushing migrants back without individually assessing their cases or granting them a realistic chance to claim asylum as guaranteed under international humanitarian law.

The Commission’s plan allows the three countries to require migrants to claim asylum only at designated locations, such as certain border crossings, for the next six months.

Asylum seekers could be kept for up to 16 weeks at the border, losing a standing right to be held in more suitable centres inside the country, and EU states would be required to offer them basic provisions only as their cases are decided.

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The move sparked the fury of human rights activists and politicians in the European Parliament.

Erin McKay, Oxfam’s European migration manager, said: “Supporting the detention of migrants at EU borders puts politics over peoples’ lives.”

Sophie in ‘t Veld, Democrats 66 leader in the European Parliament, called on Ursula von der Leyen to appear in the chambers and explain her decision.

She blasted: “Instead of enforcing EU law, the EU commission caves in to pressure by the national governments, basically legitimising human rights violations and the non-application of asylum laws.

“When will the European Parliament call on von der Leyen and Margaritis Schinas to come before plenary and explain?”

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Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt also condemned the decision.

He said: “So the Commission will allow Poland to lock up asylum seekers longer, while Poland refuses to allow journalists into the area to check…

“The migration issue is getting the worst out of the EU: Strong to the weak but weak to the strongmen!”

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have already had in place their own emergency rules that suspend some human rights for months and the reality migrants face is harsher than what the Commission offered to allow.

A senior Lithuanian MP praised the proposals – which are likely to swiftly get the necessary approval of all EU states – as making the bloc’s migration policies more realistic.

The EU has been tightening immigration rules since one million people arrived in 2015, overwhelming the bloc and dividing member states over how to respond. Poland’s nationalist government has been a leading anti-immigration voice, also clashing with the EU over other human rights issues.

Poland allowed its state of emergency to lapse overnight, but used new powers to extend a ban on media and rights activists operating freely in the border area for three months.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was quoted on Wednesday saying he was ready to suspend Russian energy flows over Belarusian territory if Poland closed the border. The Kremlin said it hoped he would not do so.

In Vilnius, the government was debating on Wednesday extending its state of emergency. Its interior ministry said there were 10,000 migrants still in Belarus.

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