By Alex Butler
A proposal has been drawn up in which EU law would be temporarily suspended at the borders of Belarus. According to DW, such measures are allowed to be taken under EU jurisdiction if exceptional circumstances call for them. Under this proposal, migrants will be held in closed camps along the Belarus border for up to 16 weeks as they undergo an extended asylum process.
This extension allows the registration time for asylum applications to be extended to four weeks as opposed to the pre-existing maximum of 10 days that exists under EU laws. Furthermore, the right to claim asylum, which is guaranteed under international humanitarian law would be restricted to designated places such as border crossing points.
Al Jazeera writes that these measures prevent refugees from claiming asylum when they reach an EU member state border and force them to walk even further through difficult terrain along the eastern rim of the bloc to make it to a location where they are welcome. According to Al Jazeera, the proposal also paves the way for quicker deportations of asylum seekers whose applications were rejected. This proposal will apply to all non-EU nationals who have irregularly entered the EU from Belarus.
| Regardless of these justifications, the result is that thousands of refugees are caught in a limbo at the border between Belarus and the EU and will continue to suffer as states grapple over their fate.
Already, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania have prevented border crossings from Belarus. The migration crisis has been going on for months but has escalated in November when thousands of people fled to the border of Belarus and Poland, seeking entry into the EU. The European Commission, as well as others, have accused the Lukashenko regime in Belarus of crafting an attack on the EU by sending an overwhelming number of refugees to member states' borders.
The New York Times reported that Lukashenko, the autocratic leader of Belarus, has loosened his country's visa rules for migrants and has helped them reach the EU's eastern border. The majority of them arrived in the capital of Belarus by air before traveling overland to the EU states' borders, per BBC. Belarus has denied accusations of using refugees to overwhelm the EU, claiming that its goal is to repatriate stranded migrants along the border. According to the BBC, most migrants attempting to cross into the bloc are from Iraq, although there are large numbers hailing from Afghanistan and Syria as well.
In response to the wave of migrants, Poland sent police, border guards, and troops to seal off the border, while Lithuania and Latvia followed suit and attempted to prevent crossings within recent months. According to the New York Times, the bloc has refused to condemn these states despite the fact that the pushing back of migrants and refusal to process their asylum requests violates EU and international law.
Al Jazeera reports that their approaches have left many migrants stranded at the border in freezing conditions that will only worsen as winter sets in. Many are without shelter from rain, snow, and the cold, and have no access to food, clean water, or medical assistance.
The proposal has drawn criticism from several parties. DW writes that members of the European Parliament called the changes unacceptable and stressed that the measures take advantage of vulnerable migrants. The Polish Senate and the country's commissioner for human rights argue that such treatment of migrants violates the Polish constitution. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Oxfam claim that this treatment also breaks international and European asylum law, and passing the proposal would only worsen the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
According to a migration-focused policy analyst, such measures have hardly had success in the past. Delaying the registration and processing of asylum claims typically leads to longer detention periods, violations of human rights, and additional burdens for both the refugees and local authorities.
The EU claims that these measures are necessary to assist Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland with the border crisis, which they classify as an emergency situation. The European Commission writes that these states will now be able to set up swift and orderly processes to manage the situation while respecting international law and human rights.
Furthermore, the proposal also requires member states to cover the basic needs of migrants, including temporary shelter, protection from weather conditions, food, water, clothing, medical care, and special assistance to vulnerable persons. Regardless of these justifications, the result is that thousands of refugees are caught in a limbo at the border between Belarus and the EU and will continue to suffer as states grapple over their fate.