The Poland-Belarus Border Crisis: Asylum Rights Altered as Troops Guard Border

As the migrants trapped in “no man’s land” begin to face the winter months, the European Union (“EU”) recently proposed emergency measures to allow Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania to derogate from EU asylum rules. According to Human Rights Watch, while the measures would still need to be approved by the European Council, they would “systemize abuse of peoples’ rights at EU borders and risk creating a terrible precedent” (https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/12/03/asylum-rights-thrown-frozen-ditch-poland-belarus-border).

Currently, the EU requires countries to not only cover basic needs but also a full range of material reception conditions such as housing, food, clothing, healthcare (including medical and psychological care), education for minors, and access to employment under certain conditions (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/151/asylum-policy). However, these new measures would allow the aforementioned countries to detain asylum seekers, including families with children, for up to four months until authorities can conduct an “accelerated border procedure” (https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/12/03/asylum-rights-thrown-frozen-ditch-poland-belarus-border). Additionally, the new measures would establish an easier process for quick deportation if a migrant’s application is rejected and would release countries of their obligation to suspend deportation proceedings in the case of appeal.

Moreover, the Polish government has implemented additional policies that restricts access to aid workers, journalists, and human rights workers, and on December 1st, Poland adopted a new law that authorizes border guards to use their discretion in their treatment of migrants (https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/12/03/asylum-rights-thrown-frozen-ditch-poland-belarus-border). While the EU has heavily criticized Poland’s new policies, nations like the United Kingdom and Estonia have recently deployed troops to Poland in an attempt to support Polish forces during the migrant crisis (https://www.thefirstnews.com/article/british-estonian-troops-to-assist-in-polish-border-crisis-26492; https://twitter.com/SolochPawel/status/1466418879241019401.) Currently, Poland’s president has authorized these troops to remain in Poland until March 1, 2022 (https://www.thefirstnews.com/article/british-estonian-troops-to-assist-in-polish-border-crisis-26492).

The international community has begun to oppose Belarus’ attempt to weaponize migrants in its battles with the EU. On Thursday, President Biden announced new economic sanctions targeting people and entities associated with President Lukashenko’s government (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/us-belarus-sanctions/2021/12/03/c68ff9e0-545a-11ec-8ad5-b5c50c1fb4d9_story.html). Specifically, the Biden administration explained the sanctions were meant to target government organizations that are involved in “using migrants to punish Europe for previous sanctions or have taken part in political repression and violations of human rights” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/us-belarus-sanctions/2021/12/03/c68ff9e0-545a-11ec-8ad5-b5c50c1fb4d9_story.html). While President Lukashenko has criticized the West for issuing these sanctions, it is unclear whether he will help put an end to the migrant crisis he created.

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