EU leaders are meeting for the second day in Brussels today to discuss migration policies and the ongoing crisis at the EU border with Belarus. The bloc is accusing Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of illegally pushing migrants to the EU at the border with Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.
Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda said on Friday the EU needed to swiftly overhaul its asylum laws and erect a fence to defend itself in the short-term from Belarus, which he said was “weaponising” migration and pushing people into bloc.
“We also should talk about a physical fence of physical border, which is extremely needed as a short-term measure,” Mr Nauseda said on arrival for a second days of talks among the bloc’s 27 national leaders, long divided over how to handle migration.
“Because nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. Maybe there will be three, four, five thousand migrants staying at the border at the same time or trying to cross the border in different places… We have to be decisive.”
The Lithuanian leader also called for Schengen rules to be reformed as a long-term solution to the migration issue in the bloc.
Speaking ahead of Mr Nauseda, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo also said on Friday all European Union countries must act in solidarity to be able to handle the rising migratory pressure and help those in need.
“Solidarity should go both ways. The message to the southern countries is clear – consolidate your borders and we will show solidarity with you with funds to better protect you external borders,” De Croo said.
“But the solidarity has to also go the other way because it cannot be the case that a few countries make all the efforts to welcome the people who need help.
“For it to work at the European level, everybody should show solidarity.”
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Whilst Luxembourg premier Xavier Bettel told reporters that the European Union has to find the right balance to tackle the Belarus’ migrant scheme but not strip people attempting to cross the bloc’s borders of their fundamental rights.
He said: “These people are not being treated adequately, also by various European countries, and I am convinced there is room for improvement.
“All measure we take must be in line with human rights.
“We cannot simply strip people of the most fundamental rights, the right of asylum. An orderly migration must remain possible. We need to find the right balance.”
The sensitive and divisive issue of handling refugees and migrants reaching EU territory is high on the political agenda of the bloc, which has recently noted increased arrivals via Belarus and blamed Minsk for orchestrating that.
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European Union foreign ministers debated new economic sanctions on Belarus on Monday, including on airlines, to halt what Brussels says is a deliberate policy by Minsk to fly in thousands of migrants from Iraq, Iran and Africa and send them across the border.
Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko denies this and has blamed the West for what he says is a looming humanitarian catastrophe this winter after migrants were stranded on the Belarusian-Polish border.
On Tuesday, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer offered to send border control officers to Poland to help the country manage the influx of migrants from Belarus, adding that Germany could also offer logistical support.
Estonia, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said on Thursday that the EU should come up with a stronger response to the issue.
“The situation in Belarus and the European border is very worrying for us (…) We need a stronger joint EU response in this regard”, Kallas said on her arrival to a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
Up to eight migrants have already been reported to have died at the border so far.
Polish divers found the body of a 19-year-old Syrian man in a river on the Polish-Belarusian border on Wednesday.
The border guard have been looking for the man since Tuesday when they caught another Syrian who said he was pushed into the river by Belarusian services together with another man, PAP reported.
Divers found the body on Wednesday in the river Bug, which forms part of the border between Poland and Belarus.
“His identity was confirmed by the other young man with whom he tried to illegally cross the Bug a day earlier. We also found documents on the body. So there is no doubt that’s the 19-year-old Syrian citizen,” Lublin region police spokesman Andrzej Fijolek told PAP.
He added an investigation would be conducted into the death.
Rights groups have criticised Poland’s nationalist government over its treatment of migrants at the border, with accusations of multiple illegal pushbacks.