Joe Barnes, The Telegraph, December 1, 2021
Brussels is set to drastically increase the amount of time member states can detain asylum-seekers amid the border crisis with Belarus.
In a major concession to the Eastern states, the European Commission will offer Poland, Lativa and Lithuania the chance to detain migrants for 16 weeks, rather than the current maximum of ten days, the Politico news website reported.
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has been accused of sending thousands of migrants to the border with Poland as part of a ‘hybrid war’ with the West.
The most significant change to the rules will allow the countries to hold migrants in asylum processing centres on the border with Belarus for up to 16 weeks, the Politico news website reports.
Critics argue the temporary measures, which will allow the rules to be relaxed for six months, amount to “de facto detention”.
If a migrant manages to cross the border into the EU, Warsaw, Vilnius and Riga will be able to string their asylum registration application out for four weeks, instead of the current three to 10 days member states have to complete the process.
While they are being processed, the authorities can opt to hold them at centres at the border without being able to move further into the country. The Commission will propose that this procedure “may be extended up to 16 weeks including the appeal” at a meeting on Wednesday.
Under the bloc’s so-called border procedure, the three countries, which have the only land borders with Belarus, will be allowed to enforce “simplified and quicker national procedures for the return of people”, making deportations significantly easier.
The proposal also makes clear that Poland, Latvia and Lithuania are obliged to provide shelter, food, clothes and healthcare from the first day of a migrant’s asylum application.
The measures will be seen as a significant offer to the three member states, which have been on the front line of Mr Lukashenko’s bid to destabilise the EU by luring mainly Middle Eastern migrants to the bloc’s border.
Brussels accuses Minsk of engineering the migrant crisis, which saw thousands of asylum-seekers recently stranded on Poland’s border, to hit back at sanctions.
While the situation on the frontier has calmed since mid-November, when Polish security forces clashed with migrants hurling rocks across the border defences, there are still nightly attempts by groups to break through barbed wire fences.
The Polish Border Guard said there were some 134 attempts to cross the Belarus border on Monday.
There have been internal Commission clashes over the measures, with some senior officials believing they aren’t necessary to end the migration crisis and penalise asylum-seekers rather than the Belarusian dictator.