During a debate held in the European Parliament on Tuesday, the vice-president of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, exposed the European Union’s plans for migrants and asylum seekers who have been stuck on the border between Belarus and Poland for weeks. Schinas explained that there is no plan to accept and examine their requests for protection, as European standards would provide: and indeed announced that the Commission will propose a specific derogation from an article of the European treaties that regulates the reception and protection of asylum seekers.
It is not the first time that the European Commission chaired by Ursula von der Leyen takes very conservative positions on immigration, but in this case it has taken a further step: in fact it will propose to legalize the indiscriminate refoulement of asylum seekers, prohibited by various regulations of the international and European law.
“Returns have become our main priority”, explained Schinas: “this is not a question of migratory flows, but a serious threat to our security”.
According to the estimates of the European Commission, at the moment there are about 17 thousand migrants and asylum seekers in Belarus, of which about two thousand on the border with Poland and another 15 thousand in the rest of the country. They were brought to Belarus by the Belarusian regime, which is pushing them towards the European Union to try to put in difficulty border countries not used to managing a migratory flow such as Poland and Lithuania.
We are talking about ridiculous numbers, similar to the spectators of a Serie B soccer cartel match. 0.04 percent of the Polish population. Many of them come from Syrian or Iraqi Kurdistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, and if only they were able to seek asylum they would have a very good chance of obtaining some form of protection.
In generating this crisis, Belarus is exploiting the traditional hostility of Eastern European countries towards asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa. But the so-called border protection is a deeply felt issue in most European countries, none of which would like the opening of a new, huge migratory flow. “The fear of European governments, and this is why they are so firm, is that if they let some people in this would create the myth that Iraqis and Syrians are allowed in on the border between Poland and Belarus: and therefore we would not be talking about four thousand people but thirty thousand ”, he explained to New York Times Michal Baranowski, analyst with the German Marshall Fund.
The European Commission is well aware of this, and for this reason it is doing everything to support Poland’s efforts to prevent migrants and asylum seekers stranded in Belarus from entering European territory, despite appearing to be contrary to European standards. According to article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in fact, every person who reaches the territory of the European Union must be guaranteed the right to request protection. Article 19 also explicitly prohibits European countries from carrying out ‘collective push-backs’ of persons.
So far the Commission and its controversial border protection agency, Frontex, to help countries keep out migrants and asylum seekers have exploited a gray area of the treaties, which does not officially prohibit barring even entry into the territory, a fundamental prerequisite. to ask for protection.
Now the Commission would like to go a step further. During the debate in the European Parliament, Schinas announced that the Commission will make a proposal under Article 78, paragraph 3, of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The article provides that in the event “one or more member states are faced with an emergency situation characterized by a sudden influx of third-country nationals”, the Union may “adopt temporary measures for the benefit of the member state or member states concerned” .
Schinas did not provide further details, which are not even found in the preparatory document for the proposal, published by the Commission on Tuesday. But given that the article effectively provides for the temporary suspension of European rules, it probably means that the Commission will turn a blind eye to any collective rejections and expulsions that the Polish authorities could carry out in the coming weeks, and which according to dozens of testimonies they are already carrying out. “The Polish authorities are rejecting both those who try to cross the border and those who have managed to cross it,” reads a recent report by Human Rights Watch.
The journalist David Carretta, historical correspondent of Radio Radicale from the European institutions, observes that during the migratory flow of 2015, that of the so-called “Balkan route”, paragraph 3 of article 78 “was used to launch relocation in favor of Greece and Italy (but also Hungary). This time it will not be a question of redistribution of asylum seekers: if anything, of legalizing rejections and facilitating expulsions with faster and simpler procedures ”.
The second circumstance is already happening. Since last week, the Iraqi government has been organizing repatriation flights for Iraqis who choose to leave the border between Belarus and Poland and return to Iraq. Perhaps the word “choice” is not the most correct, given that at the moment the people stranded at the border have two options: to stay in the freezing woods on the Polish border, hoping that sooner or later Poland and the European Union will change their minds, or to return back, without the possibility of asking for protection.
“We spent a month in Belarus, but the conditions up there were harsh and it was so cold,” he told Reuters Mohsen Addi, a man from the Yazidi minority, returned to Iraq on one of the flights from Belarus. “I would have stayed there until I died, but my family was in danger. If the situation in Iraq does not improve, I will leave again. I have no other choice”.
Schinas announced that 638 Iraqis were repatriated in the central week of November, and that the European authorities are “ready to collaborate” with the Iraqi ones to organize and facilitate new flights. For this purpose, the Commission has allocated € 1 million in emergency funds. At the moment, the total cost of repatriation from Belarus is around 3.5 million euros.