The deaths of migrants at the Polish-Belarusian border puts the EU in a dilemma

The deaths of migrants at the Polish-Belarusian border puts the EU in a dilemma
Asylum-seekers and migrants have been transiting through Belarus in order to reach the EU, credit: UNDP

The deaths of migrants in the border forests between the two countries is concerning for the European Commission but the protection of the EU’s external border against irregular migration takes priority.

According to media reports, four migrants have been found dead in the forests, after being stuck in limbo at the border region. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and migration agency IOM, called on Tuesday for an immediate investigation into their deaths, due to causes yet to be determined.

In an exceptional decision, the European Court of Human Rights decided on 25 August that Polish and Latvian authorities should provide people stranded at their borders with Belarus with food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and, if possible, temporary shelter.

The measures applied for a period of three weeks until 15 September. The decision was based on a rule which allows the Court, in exceptional cases, to decide on interim measures where applicants face an imminent risk of irreparable harm.

Asked to comment on alleged pushbacks at the border, a Commission spokesperson said then that the Commission firmly rejects attempts by the Belarusian regime to manipulate migrants and exert pressure on the EU’s external borders. He added that the Commission is following the situation and is in contact with the Polish authorities.

The tragic incident at the border aroused questions at the Commission’s daily press conferences. The Commission said that the management and protection of EU’s external borders must be carried out with respect for human rights but declined to address the issue whether the Polish authorities had violated international law.

That said, the rulings of the Court are binding on all signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights.  All EU member states are parties to the Convention as are the EU candidate countries.

“We are recognising that Poland is dealing with a difficult situation but aren’t in a position to comment more on what happened,” a spokesperson said at today’s press conference. However, the Commissioner in charge, Ylva Johansson, is expected to arrive to Poland soon and visit the border region on spot.

Asked by The Brussels Times if the Commission possessed any information about the implementation of the interim ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, the spokesperson replied that it was not best placed to confirm the state of play in relation to the Court’s ruling and referred to the Council of Europe and the Polish authorities.

The same question was asked to Poland. The issue was addressed by Prime-Minister Morawiecki at a press conference on Monday in Warsaw.

He did confirm that that “in the very last hours, a a very tragic discovery was made – 3 people who crossed the Polish border, mainly due to hypothermia and exhaustion, died. We do not know the exact identity of the people who died in the territory of the Republic of Poland, but we will do our best to identify them. We want everyone to be treated with dignity.”

He did not mention the court decision and whether it had been applied but added the lives of 8 such people who were trapped in the backwaters of the Supraśl River had been saved.

“For people who have illegally entered the territory of the Republic of Poland and for whom we provide assistance in hospitals, special aid, securing their health and life, we will do everything possible to ensure that these people survive.”

But the main blame was put on Belarus or on what the Commission is calling the instrumentalization of the migrant problem by the regime in Minsk. “We are also dealing with situations that obviously mean the organized action of Lukashenka regime, which is to lead to destabilization on the Polish-Belarusian and EU border in the most massive way possible.”

In September, Poland has identified almost 4,000. attempts to cross the border illegally, which is much more than in August. “We have recordings from our cameras and drones and we are absolutely sure that people from the territory of Belarus are transported to the Belarusian border guard posts. There they are instructed and transported to the border with Poland.”

The Commission declined to address the conflicting interest of protecting the border against migration pressure exercised by Belarus and the right of migrants to apply for asylum and international protection in the EU.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times


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