Sunday

29th May 2022

Opinion

A war on immigration in Europe?

  • Migrants on Polish border (Photo: Telegram)
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To paraphrase a famous text, a spectre haunts Europe: the fear of migration.

A fear fuelled by multiple centres of persuasion and power, including several political forces. Despite a lack of major electoral victories, the European far-right managed to establish a negative narrative towards migration in public opinion all around Europe.

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This affects the views of many governments and the decision-making process. For years, member states fuelled by this right-wing narrative have not been able to take effective solidarity measures in the field of asylum.

The widespread anti-migration discourse and, the policies based on it, reveal an unhinged Europe. This attitude of rejection and fear towards those fleeing war and misery, and the systematic violations of their human rights and the Geneva Convention, is in contrast with the values of equality, freedom and unity in diversity, on which our Union is based.

Furthermore, Europe is politically weak because its opponents know that nothing makes the European Council more nervous than a few thousand migrants trying to cross an external EU border.

And these opponents, act accordingly. Lukashenko is exploiting EU weakness at the border with Poland: shamelessly using human beings as instruments for his political purposes.

Some of these people died from hunger or cold, including a one-year-old child. We were told the story of a pregnant woman, who was left to die in the mud. Her corpse was then dragged away by the Belarusian police as if she was just a mere piece of garbage. How can this be done to a human being?

Testimonies from the border region are consistent in pointing the abuses by Belarusian and Polish border guards, who have used stun guns, tear gas, and water cannons. There have also been reports of separation of families.

These migrants crossing the borders are not terrorists or paedophiles, as the Polish government falsely claimed. They are people with different motivations for fleeing their country, whose applications for entry must be examined under existing legal procedures and in compliance with European law.

In the end, the Belarusian regime eventually moved about a thousand migrants, including children, to an indoor centre and provided blankets and food. And, while Iraq announced repatriation flights, the future of many immigrants is uncertain.

Warsaw

The attitude of Warsaw is worsening the situation: population is afraid, as there is a climate of terror and intimidation. The border is being used as a shield, denying people the right to seek asylum, illegally pushing people back, denying journalists access to the borders and stopping individuals and organisations from offering humanitarian assistance.

Despite this, the local population in Poland and several NGOs continue offering humanitarian assistance, bringing water and food and trying to ensure medical care. These people are showing humanity, despite risking up to five years in jail and a fine up to 5,000 PNL [€1,000].

In the face of this situation, European Council president Charles Michel was quick to travel to the Polish capital on November 10, 2021.

However, he did not take the government to task. He went there to offer his unconditional "solidarity" with the scorched earth policy of Morawiecki's ultra-right-wing government. Michel endorsed the alarmist and militaristic rhetoric, calling the actions of the Belarusian authorities a "brutal, hybrid, violent and undignified attack", thus undermining the principle of non-refoulement and the guarantees provided for by EU law to asylum seekers at EU borders.

In one week, we moved from a situation where Poland, a state subject to Article 7, was under intense scrutiny and pressure for the constant erosion of the rule of law to a climate of political support.

To this, we must add the use and abuse of terms such as 'hybrid threat', 'hybrid war', 'hybrid attack'. This narrative is in contrast with the original idea of a European Union as an instrument of peace, founded on human rights. It does not correspond to reality.

Although migrants have been treated as instruments for destabilising purposes, their irregular entry into Poland does not in itself pose a threat to territorial integrity, political independence or security.

Alarm bells

The EU Commission is not doing a better job.

The proposal of a council decision to activate emergency measures under Article 78(3) of the TFEU presented on 1 December is again reiterating that the EU must protect itself from migrants and asylum seekers.

The proposal leads to formally not allowing people to enter the EU territory, extending the registration period for asylum applications to four weeks from the current three to 10 days as well as the processing time for claims that could be extended to four months.

In addition, it allows for the expeditious return of those who see their request for asylum rejected, as well as the reduction of reception conditions to the basic needs, which is again violating EU principles, and undermining the right to asylum.

The legal grounds of this proposal, are at the very best dubious, since there are limits to the suspension of rights; in this case, the right to asylum, even in crisis situations.

Moreover, the very same commission proposal acknowledges that it would "help the member state to apply the fiction of non-entry for a longer period of time".

Alarm bells should be ringing when the Union starts legislating on legal fictions to satisfy ultra-conservative warlike discourses and notwithstanding the lack of democratic legitimacy that entails bypassing the European Parliament, which is only consulted.

Instead of the hard-line approach taken by the commission, the EU should have deployed EASO to help the countries under pressure to do their duty with those who are already in the territory and ensuring in this way the possibility of asking for asylum, which is being denied to many.

The Union could have also provided temporary reception facilities in accordance with the law, as well as mandatory relocation when Poland, Latvia and Lithuania encounter capacity problems. In short, a European human response, based on solidarity.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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