Friday, November 19, 2021

In recent days, thousands of refugees — the majority of whom are Iraqis and Syrians, including women and children — who have fled the war and instability in the Middle East region for a better and more peaceful future, have found themselves trapped at the European border between Poland and Belarus. In front of them, an impassable wall of barbed wire and police.

In this context, attention is being drawn to European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen’s statement that the European Union may impose new sanctions against Belarus, which is accused of hosting and pushing thousands of migrants to the Polish and Baltic countries. On the other hand, Lukashenko has threatened to cut off natural gas supplies through his country, which will lead Europe into an energy crisis. 

The political and diplomatic tug-of-war between the European Union and Poland and Belarus is therefore getting all the attention, while the freezing temperatures and lack of humanitarian aid have already claimed many lives (The Guardian, 2021)

In a recent statement, the Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) points out that the EU has failed to create effective European policies that respect both the human rights of individuals and the prosperity of the European Union members through a fair and equitable distribution of migration. This failure and “lack of consensus within the EU has led some member states to take matters into their own hands and enforce brutally tough border policies that have little regard for human rights”. (GICJ, 2021)

In the absence of a consensus within the EU, Poland has adopted the “push-backs”, a practice that remains in contradiction with international refugee and human rights law, according to the United Nations (UN, 2021). Moreover, due to the declaration of a state of emergency, the impossibility for the media and humanitarian organizations to access the field reinforces the urgency of the situation (Aljazeera, 2021).

While some of the surviving refugees are repatriated to their home country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stressed that “the priority now is to prevent loss of life and move people to safer locations in Belarus” (UN, 2021). The access to the area for humanitarian NGOs is more necessary than ever. 

The UN and EU must therefore take urgent steps to strengthen respect for international human rights law and international refugee law, and avoid a repeat of the same tragic story.

Michela G. Maccabruni

Mercy Hands Europe