BRUSSELS (AP) — Top European Union migration officials offered Wednesday to ease asylum rules for Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in response to what the EU says is a “hybrid attack” by Belarus to destabilize the bloc using migrants.
The move would make it harder for migrants to enter the 27-nation bloc from Belarus, angering nongovernmental organizations.
Around 8,000 people, many from Iraq, have crossed into the three EU countries since the beginning of the year. President Alexander Lukashenko is accused of luring them to Belarus with the promise of helping them to enter Europe in revenge for EU sanctions against his government and companies.
For six months, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia will be able extend the period 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 to use fast-track national procedures for deporting people whose applications have been refused. People could be held in temporary reception centers.
The proposals to ease the rules made by the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, must be endorsed by the 27 member countries before they can take effect.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said that the number of migrants arriving in the Belarus capital, Minsk have slowed, and that many are being returned to their home countries.
“The inflow of new instrumentalized migrants into Minsk has more or less stopped totally,” she told reporters in Brussels. She played down concerns that it amounts to a crisis. ““The numbers are not high. This is not primarily a migration crisis. It’s a hybrid threat.”
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.” said Erin McKay, Oxfam’s European Migration Campaign Manager.