Tuesday

30th Nov 2021

Too early to 'de-escalate' Belarus crisis, says EU official

  • Poland has militarised its border with Belarus - but not accepted offers of humanitarian aid - as the tense standoff continues (Photo: Mariusz Błaszczak)
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The crisis with Belarus has not "de-escalated" in the wake of asylum seekers being placed in shelters in Belarus, and others repatriated to Iraq from Minsk, said an EU senior official.

"It is far too early to speak about any de-escalation," the official told reporters last week in an off-record press briefing.

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"So far, some very minor first steps have been taken by the authorities which have to be followed up by many more steps," he said.

The statement follows the removal of several hundred people on the border with Poland to overcrowded shelters in Belarus.

It also comes after a flight from Minsk repatriated over 400 mainly-Iraqi and Kurdish nationals to Baghdad.

The EU is attempting to get aid to the several thousand stranded people in Belarus via international aid agencies.

But senior EU officials say Belarus authorities have yet to offer UN agencies "permanent and unhindered access", noting only one authorised visit by the aid organisations on 11 November.

"We have called to allow international organisations to have access to help those who find themselves in need," said another senior EU official, who asked not to be named.

At least two phone calls have taken place between the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and the Belarus ministry of foreign affairs.

It comes amid reports of the death of a one-year child, on top of at least 10 other deaths.

The European Commission last week announced some €700,000 in humanitarian assistance for those stranded, including food, blankets and first-aid kits.

It says €200,000 will go to the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.

The remaining €500,000 will go to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The EU official noted it can only offer humanitarian support to non-EU countries.

Another system, via a so-called civil protection mechanism, can instead be used to help member states.

"Poland has not asked so far for any assistance," said the official.

Frontex return flights

Warsaw has instead demanded the EU's border agency Frontex return some 1,700 Iraqis to Baghdad.

"There will be potentially 1,700 Iraqis to be returned from Poland to Iraq," said Frontex's executive-director, Fabrice Leggeri, earlier this month.

"And we have a first batch of 200 that are ready to be returned," he said, noting they are trying to organise chartered flights to Iraq.

Leggeri said those being returned have either come to the end of an asylum procedure or being sent home on a volunteer basis.

"We have an assessment and the assurance by Polish authorities that this is in fact, in line with the legal standard," he said.

The agency on Friday (19 November) said it had so far supported Poland by organising 13 such flights this year with 62 returnees onboard.

"Due to the recent migratory pressure at the borders with Belarus, Frontex has been providing support to Lithuania with similar returns," it said, in an email.

Meanwhile, Poland is still refusing journalists and aid-workers access to its border with Belarus, drawing widespread criticism.

Among them is the human-rights watch dog and Strasbourg-based Council of Europe.

Its commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatović, says urgent action is needed along Poland's border.

"The basic human rights of the affected people have been brushed aside and forgotten," she said, in a statement.

She also pointed out recent Polish legislation, adopted by its lower house on 17 November, will likely lead to a permanent system that undermines the right to ask for asylum.

"All pushbacks must end immediately."

Minsk using migrants to 'divert focus from domestic crackdown'

Belarus authorities in late July launched a crackdown against civil society, says exiled Belarus youth leader Vorykhava. She said the regime in Minsk is now using the migrant border crisis to divert international attention away from repression inside the country.

EU Commission: laws allowing Belarus pushbacks need changes

Poland, Latvia and Lithuania have introduced national laws, under states of emergency, allowing authorities to turn back people into Belarus. The European Commission is set to ask for some of those rules to be amended.

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