BRUSSELS (AP) — Top European Union migration officials offered Wednesday to ease the asylum-evaluation rules for Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in response to what the EU has called a “hybrid attack” by Belarus to destabilize the bloc using migrants and refugees.
The move would make it harder for people to enter the 27-nation bloc from Belarus, even though fewer are now trying. Charity groups and lawmakers said the revised procedures would amount to legalizing “pushbacks,” the act of denying people their right to apply for asylum, often using force.
The EU migration officials proposed allowing Poland, Lithuania and Latvia for six months to extend the required time for registering asylum applications from three to 10 days to up to four weeks. Applications would only be accepted at dedicated border crossing points.
The processing could be done at the borders, including any right of appeal, but should be done within 16 weeks. The three countries would also be able fast track their national procedures for deporting unsuccessful applicants. People could be held in temporary reception centers.
Around 8,000 asylum-seekers, many from Iraq, have crossed into the three EU countries since the beginning of the year. Thousands more got stranded at borders in Belarus as the weather turned cold.
The EU accuses the leader of Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, of retaliating for sanctions against his government by luring desperate refugees and migrants to his country with the promise of help entering Europe.
Poland and Lithuania declared states of emergency on their borders with Belarus. On Tuesday, Poland's government applied new laws to make a border area off-limits to everyone except residents and people who live, work or study in the designated no-access zone.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said that the number of migrants arriving in the Belarus capital, Minsk, “has more or less stopped totally,” and that many are being returned to their home countries.
“The numbers are not high. This is not primarily a migration crisis. It’s a hybrid threat,” Johansson said.
The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, made the proposals to ease the asylum rules. The proposals, which must be endorsed by the 27 member countries before they can take effect, met some initial opposition Wednesday.
The lead Greens EU lawmaker on migration, Tineke Strik, said the revised procedures “are tantamount to endorsing the illegal, immoral and life-threatening practice of pushbacks.”
“The commission has caved in to far-right pressure from the Polish government and blackmail from the Belarusian dictator, and thrown European values to the wayside,” Strik said, adding that its “response to this crisis is to detain all asylum-seekers and offer them even less protection.”
Human rights group Oxfam said the proposals go against the values the EU says it stands for.
“Stopping, detaining and criminalizing people trying to find safety in Europe breaks international and European asylum law. Supporting the detention of migrants at EU borders puts politics over peoples’ lives.” Oxfam European Migration Campaign Manager Erin McKay said.
European Trade Union Confederation Confederal Secretary Ludovic Voet said the EU should help people apply for asylum instead of greeting migrants and refugees with “the deployment of border guards, walls and razor wire, and their detention or deportation.”
Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration
Lorne Cook, The Associated Press