EU seeks to toughen visa rules in Belarus amid growing migration crisis | Belarus
The European Commission has said it wants to suspend easy visa access for Belarusian officials in a bid to deter it from pushing migrants from the Middle East and Africa across its border with the bloc.
Neighboring Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have declared a state of emergency after a surge in arrivals at their borders with Belarus, accusing the country’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, of an act of “hybrid war” by seeking to orchestrate an EU migration crisis.
In an attempt to step up pressure on the Lukashenko regime, already under EU sanctions, the European Commission wants to suspend an agreement that cuts the average cost of a visa to € 35 and cuts waiting times for officials, parliamentarians and senior magistrates. , although the program would still work for ordinary Belarusians.
The measure is largely symbolic, however, as Lukashenko and dozens of his highest allies are already subject to an EU travel ban. In 2020, consular officials in the passport-free zone of the EU issued 134,777 visas to Belarusian nationals.
Since Belarus started attracting migrants to the EU, at least five people have died near the Polish-Belarusian border. Last week. the BBC found a group of men from African countries shivering in a forest in the border region. A Nigerian told the BBC that they were pushed between the two countries like a soccer ball. They said: “The Belarusians are beating us, pushing us back to Poland; the Poles are catching us, beating us, pushing us back to Belarus.
Poland has closed the border area to journalists and NGOs and has avoided any help from the European border agency Frontex.
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński refused to answer the phone of EU Migration Commissioner Ylva Johansson, who urged her to open the border area to outside observers and defend the rights of migrants.
“We must support Poland in protecting its external borders, but it is important that this is in line with fundamental rights and transparency, in order to prevent more lives being lost,” she told the journalists.
The commissioner has promised “frank and open” discussions when she meets Kamiński at Warsaw airport on Thursday. The proposal to halt visa easing with Belarus could ease relations with the Polish government, which has long been one of Lukashenko’s most vocal critics, and has called for more EU action.
According to the commission, migrants pay € 10,000 for the trip to the EU. After flying to Belarus, they are accommodated in a hotel in Minsk, before being driven to the border. Video footage from the EU border agency Frontex shows migrants near the Lithuanian border with Belarus exiting a van and being ordered to walk.
EU officials describe Belarus’ actions as state sponsored smuggling of migrants. “It’s a way for Lukashenko to make money,” Johansson said. “He is deceiving people into paying a lot of money just to be tricked and duped.”
“It is an act of aggression by a desperate regime which is under pressure by the EU’s sanctions against Belarus,” she said. “Lukashenko imports or receives migrants, enticing migrants to come to Minsk, and then they are not only facilitated at the EU’s external borders, but in fact pushed into the European Union. And that is of course totally unacceptable. It is a way of instrumentalizing human beings and putting their lives in danger.
The suspension of the visa agreement is expected to be approved by EU member states before it takes effect. It entered into force in July 2020, just a month before Lukashenko launched a brutal crackdown on street protesters calling on him to step down after elections widely believed to have been rigged.