02/12/2021

Fortress Europe begins to tread on red lines

2 min
Migrants in a camp on the border between Belarus and Poland.

The European Union has been backtracking on its defence of human rights for some time now, especially when it comes to immigration and, even more so, when it comes to confronting the xenophobic policies of Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Poland. While last week it announced that he would allocate some €3.5m to pay for the repatriation of immigrants stranded in Belarus after Aleksandr Lukashenko's tour de force, on Wednesday it opened the door for Poland, Latvia and Lithuania – the countries that have come under greatest migratory pressure at their borders because of this policy – to cut back on the right to asylum and to bypass international standards on refugee protection. The situation is very delicate because, although it is clear that this is a complex problem in which the Belarusian government has used the desperation of migrants to put pressure on the EU and avoid sanctions, the result is that, in the public eye, it seems that the dictator has got away with it.

What was on the table on Wednesday, and what has been negotiated for weeks now, is considering valid a policy these countries are in fact already enforcing at their borders. As they are not currently guaranteeing the right to asylum for people arriving from Belarus, Brussels is proposing that these three European partners can effectively curtail the right to international protection of refugees by detaining them for longer at the borders. Thus, hiding behind Article 78(3), which provides for "exceptional" measures in this area, it accepts that these countries can apply disincentive measures such as, for example, extending to one month the time the Lithuanian, Latvian or Polish authorities can have to process asylum applications (now the rule is ten days), and the decision and its appeal can be extended to more than sixteen weeks, a time during which they can be held in centres set up close to the borders. Deportation without the possibility of applying for asylum is also favoured.

It is true that we are not talking about a drastic turn in the least. After what has happened and is still happening in Greece and other southern European countries, such as Italy or Spain, with a far greater influx of migrants than over the crisis in Belarus, it is clear that these measures are already being implemented de facto in many cases. The difference, however, is that whereas they had been applied autonomously by states, willingly or out of impotence when it came to managing the situation, now it is the European Commission itself which, officially, accepts methods that contradict international law. These same rebellious Eastern European countries that for years have been sabotaging a fair and equitable distribution of migrants – who, risking their lives, try to reach Europe often fleeing persecution in their countries due to wars driven by foreign powers – are now achieving their goal of changing the policies of the entire EU. Fortress Europe is starting to become a bunker controlled by the most extremist, already treading on more than one red line.

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