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Asylum Rights Thrown into a Frozen Ditch on Poland-Belarus Border

European Commission Proposes Measures “To Apply the Fiction of Non-Entry”

Blankets and sleeping bags lie abandoned in the forest on the border between Poland and Belarus, November 11, 2021.  © 2021 Michael Kappeler/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

As families huddle to keep warm in the forests along the Poland-Belarus border, some of them nursing wounds from violent ping-pong pushbacks, the European Commission has proposed a plan to make a horrible situation even worse.

On December 1, the commission proposed emergency measures to allow Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania –the three EU countries bordering Belarus – to derogate from EU asylum rules. If approved by the European Council, the measures would systematize abuse of peoples’ rights at EU borders and risk creating a terrible precedent.

The measures would allow the three countries to detain asylum seekers, including families with children, for up to four months while they undergo an “accelerated border procedure” to assess their asylum applications. Authorities would only be obligated to cover basic needs during this time, rather than the full range of material reception conditions required by EU law.

The proposals also would make it easier to quickly deport people if their application is rejected, without the benefit of automatic suspension of deportation in case of appeal. People could appeal to courts to block deportation, but that’s cold comfort in a country like Poland where judicial interference by the government is rampant.

The commission seems to acknowledge the questionable justification for these derogations – that people in these border procedures aren’t already in the EU – when it argues that extending the border procedure in time and scope “will help the Member State to apply the fiction of non-entry for a longer period of time providing for more flexibility.”

The move comes as Poland’s government continues to restrict access to aid workers, journalists, and human rights workers, while its policies, documented by Human Rights Watch, separate families, push people back to Belarus, and expose them to abuse. Poland adopted a new law on December 1 that leaves such access at the discretion of border guards, drawing criticism from Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic.

Belarus manufactured the human crisis at its borders with the EU; Poland’s abusive response exacerbated the situation. Instead of reminding EU member states and its neighbors that the EU is a community of rights that will not bow to cynical manipulation, the commission has chosen to sacrifice its values and the rights of people on the move.

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