EU proposes more flexible asylum procedures for Belarus crisis

Soldiers in the Lithuanian Armed Forces during a presidential visit to the Front Operations Base of the Lithuanian Armed Forces in Druskininkai, Lithuania, on Nov. 22, 2021. (Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
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John Follain Bloomberg News (TNS)

The European Union’s executive arm proposed exceptional flexibility to its eastern members struggling with artificial migration from Belarus, proposing that Latvia, Lithuania and Poland be allowed to take up to 16 weeks to process asylum requests.

Margaritis Schinas, vice president of the European Commission, told reporters on Wednesday the suggested temporary measures would provide the three EU member states with the means to respond to extraordinary circumstances, as requested by the bloc’s leaders in October.

“What we are proposing today is a cohesive, meaningful package that at the same time provides our three member states with everything they need, and fully supports, protects, preserves what we stand for,” said Schinas, mentioning the right of asylum, the principle of no push back and the fundamental respect for human rights.

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President Alexander Lukashenko said last week that Belarus will continue to let migrants try to enter the EU, defying warnings of sanctions to deter the flow of people toward the bloc’s borders. The EU accuses Lukashenko of orchestrating the migrant crisis in retaliation for mounting sanctions the bloc imposed over his crackdown on opposition protests following last year’s disputed presidential election.

The EU has warned of a restrictions on travel and transport companies that aid people-trafficking in an effort to prevent the Belarusian leader using irregular migration as a weapon against the bloc.

The measures, which would have to be approved by the European Council, would be valid for 6 months. The three member states would be allowed to take a maximum of 16 weeks to process asylum claims, including the appeal, as opposed to a current norm of 4 weeks, said Ylva Johansson, commissioner for migration and home affairs.

The countries would also be granted simplified and faster procedures for the return of people whose applications have been rejected.

“Lukashenko has been trying to sell free access to the European Union and that could never be accepted by us,” said Johansson. She said the inflow of migrants into Belarus had virtually stopped, with 1,872 Iraqis returned to their country of origin from Belarus, and more flights planned. So far, she added, 8,000 migrants have crossed the Belarus border into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Both Schinas and Johansson denied that the proposed measures curtail the rights of migrants. “Fundamental rights are not being touched,” said Johansson.

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