EU shot itself in foot by politicising border before Belarus crisis

Belarus-Poland: Polish troops use water cannons at border

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Leaders in Brussels have met to discuss whether to curb some migrants’ rights to ward off what the bloc has called a hybrid attack by Minsk. Since this summer, thousands of migrants have gathered at Belarus’ border with Poland, which doubles up as the EU’s eastern frontier. Many believe that President Alexander Lukashenko has allowed the migrants to pass through Belarus and on to the fringes of the EU in reaction to sanctions imposed on Belarus.

These economic restrictions were enforced by the EU and other western countries following allegations of human rights abuses and the forced diversion of a RyanAir flight in Minsk on May 23, and the detention of journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

EU ministers are now considering a proposal by the European Commission that would allow Poland, Lithuania and Latvia — countries that share a border with Belarus — to restrict migrants’ rights for six months.

It would also require them to claim asylum only at designated locations, among other measures.

Professor Matthew Longo, a political scientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, claims that the EU has got itself into such a position because of the way in which it has “politicised” its border.

He said that the intense emphasis the bloc has placed on protecting its boundaries from migrants and other nationalities has enabled states like Belarus to weaponise their own borders in a bid to harm the bloc.

He told Express.co.uk: “I think in general, once the border became so easy to blackmail, once the EU became this place that puts so much political caché on stopping people from getting in, of course, it becomes a space that people on the outside looking to be provocative will exploit.

“My sense is that insofar as this is true, insofar as the cynical reading is true, that this is all just a Lukashenko power play, I don’t see why this wouldn’t become the norm.”

He talked of how the idea of outside actors using the border for concessions against big powers, in this case the EU, is nothing new, and has been practised throughout history.

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Prof Longo also noted that the European story of protecting its borders is different to the US’.

Across the Atlantic, the US used security measures to secure its border before making it a political issue.

But, in the EU, policy has always preceded the actual reinforcement of the border.

He added: “So, the EU is in a tough place.”

Ministers convening in the European Parliament have hit out at Mr Lukashenko, urging him to end what they call a mass humanitarian crisis.

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Nancy Faeser, Germany’s new interior minister, said of the Belarusian President: “He capitalises on the distress of the people to play for a domestic audience.”

She added that migrants’ fundamental rights needed to be respected, and said: “It is important that legal standards are upheld at the border, which is why I would welcome a deployment of (the EU’s border agency) Frontex there, and it is just as important that aid organisations have access (to the migrants) at all times.”

While Mr Lukashenko initially dismissed suggestions that Belarus had aided migrants in their efforts to enter the EU, he appeared to admit that his forces may have played a part in the crisis during an interview with the BBC last month.

He said it was “absolutely possible” that they had helped migrants cross into Poland, but denied that they were ever invited to begin with.

Thousands of migrants are still stuck along the EU’s eastern frontier.

While the EU says the crisis is one engineered by Minsk, Mr Lukashenko says the EU has deliberately provoked what has transpired.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson argued the proposed measures complied with the EU treaty and fundamental rights while giving Poland and the Baltic states some leeway.

She said: “In a situation of a crisis, with the instrumentalisation that we have at the border with Belarus, it’s important that member states should be able to make some derogations.

“But it’s also important to comply with the treaty and the fundamental rights. And this is not possible to derogate.”

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