Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and the EU – stop push backs at the Belarus border!

Migrants are the only victims as Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and the EU are battling for border control and political gains.

Ever since the illegitimate president of Belarus, Alexandar Lukashenko, made true of his threat to ‘’flood Europe with migrants and drugs’’, thousands of migrants are caught in a geopolitical play with deadly outcomes.  

Belarus has effectively opened a new migrant route to Europe by issuing short term visa-free visits through presidential decree, and thousands of migrants, pre-dominantly Kurds from Iraq, are now stuck in detention centers under poor conditions, facing deportation or are being pushed back to Belarus. Belarussian officials have been seen to forcefully pushing groups of migrants across the border. Bordering EU countries have reportedly mistreated migrants and pushed them back to Belarus, with six lives lost due to hypothermia, exhaustion and lack of medical care at the Poland-Belarus border in a period of seven days. Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have all declared a State of Emergency, playing on the widely spread rhetoric that this large influx of migrants constitutes a threat to national security. Under these exceptional legal frameworks, they have then been able to pass oppressive and extraordinary legal and policy measures such as restricting the right to asylum, making detention of asylum-seekers automatic, including for children, setting up barbed wire fences, or deploying the army at the border

SOLIDAR stands in solidarity with the migrants whose rights are being denied at the borders with Belarus. While EU Member States have condemned “Belarus’ attempts to instrumentalise human beings for political purposes”, they have yet to acknowledge that Poland, Lithuania and Latvia are also violating their EU and international human rights commitments. SOLIDAR is horrified by the Lithuanian proposal of legalising pushbacks in extreme situations. It would only further undermine the right to asylum and punish migrants in already vulnerable situations. It is ironic that this desperate and ill-thought proposal comes as a reaction to a situation created by the shortcomings of EU’s failing migration system, the very system that creates the possibility for third countries to blackmail the EU in the way that Belarus is doing.   

SOLIDAR welcomes the ECHR’s call on Latvia and Poland to provide humanitarian assistance at their border with Belarus, and stands with other civil society organisations, in the call for

–  An immediate stop to pushbacks at the border with Belarus, respecting the principle of non-refoulement; 

–  Commissioner Ylva Johansson and Members of the European Parliament to take a strong stance against the proposal of legalizing pushbacks; 

–  The European Commission to act its role as guardian of the Treaties and effectively protect the right to asylum, urging Lithuania, Latvia and Poland to comply with their obligations; 

–  Member States to provide assistance and necessary support and resources, including medical care, food and shelter, at the borders. 

Update (18/10): Fortress Europe is incompatible with the European values of solidarity – don’t let it become law! 

SOLIDAR is very concerned by the joint letter from 12 Member States dated 7th October, calling for the EU to fund fences at its external borders. The proposal invokes ‘’hybrid threats’’ to national security as a justification for the introduction of measures aimed at ‘’preventing the illegal borders crossings’’  and erecting a ‘’physical barrier as a measure of protection of the EU external borders’’. In light of upcoming discussions on the reform of the Schengen Border Code, those claims are worrying as they risk leading to legalizing pushbacks, thus infringing upon migrants’ rights and legitimizing violence against them. SOLIDAR reminds that pushbacks are prohibited in both EU and international law, as they fall under the principle of non-refoulement. 

SOLIDAR welcomes the Commission’s declaration that it ”strongly opposes any pushback practices and has repeatedly emphasized that any such practices are illegal”, and urges:

–  Commissioners Johansson and Schinas to take a stand against the funding of an EU external border wall;

–  Members of the European Parliament and Member States to reject any legislative proposal going in this direction. 

Image credits: Radowitz/Shutterstock