Belarus is a safe country? No.
At first I thought the reasoning was that some EU members consider Belarus a safe country. That does not seem to be true, of the 22+ EU members which have safe country lists, none of them list Belarus.
Of course that 'safe country' reasoning would be a controversial position, for example fullfact.org states regarding refugees having passed through safe countries before reaching a country where they seek asylum:
The UN Refugee Convention does not make this requirement of refugees, and UK case law supports this interpretation. Refugees can legitimately make a claim for asylum in the UK after passing through other “safe” countries.
Someone else's problem, by Belarussian design
It seems that the crux of the crisis is that countries only have to take the refugee application when the refugees are on their soil. So as long as the refugees are on the border or in Belarus, Poland or Lithuania, as some try to flee there, don't need to take their application.
For example, the European Court of Human Rights wrote regarding the case of some refugees trying to flee to Lithuania (Rule 39 refers to the court indicating an interim measure):
Today the Court decided to apply Rule 39 until 29 September 2021, indicating to the Government of
Lithuania that the applicants should not be removed to Belarus, provided that they are already on
To prevent the refugees from entering Poland, the Polish legislature has allowed its border force to use pushbacks. That's again a controversial measure as they violate the European Convention on Human Rights. Latvia is instead using 'redirections' to a border point, but I am not sure exactly what happens when they arrive there. According to infomigrants.net:
An EU spokesperson added that guards were allowed to redirect migrants to an official border crossing point saying that, "such measures are acceptable, as long as...the fundamental right of the persons concerned to be protected against refoulement [pushback] and access to the asylum procedure are respected at all times."
So why is the EU opposed to taking in refugees travelling via Belarus? That's a good question and I don't think there's an official EU position that clearly states this.
The reasoning seems clear though:
There seems to be no obligation to take in potential refugees who are not physically in the country that they want to apply to. If that were the case, they might as well apply from the country they were fleeing from originally.
The border Poland-Belarus is closed
The EU opposes Belarus using refugees to put pressure on its borders. As the BBC put it:
Poland and the EU have accused Belarus's authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko of facilitating an influx of thousands of migrants.
The European Union says he is trying to destabilise neighbouring member states as a form of retaliation against sanctions.
The EU and its member states don't want to reward what they refer to as Belarussian destabilization. By allowing the refugees in they create a perverse incentive for Belarus to continue the unwanted behavior. Already that behavior is succeeding at some level:
Some member states have resorted to measures that violate EU principles, specifically the aforementioned pushbacks.
There is further disagreement of how the refugees should be handled. Some believe that all should be done to help while there is an anti-refugee sentiment among others. Rights' groups condemn Poland's handling of the crisis. While other refugee crises were caused by problems from which refugees flee, this one is (also) exacerbated by Belarus's bringing migrants to EU borders when it wasn't clear they were allowed in.
It's a humanitarian disaster with people dying of hypothermia. While Belarus helped enable the crisis, the member states don't walk away with clean hands.
The EU seems to prefer regional help over refugees coming to the EU
This is more of an aside, though rhetoric by some in the EU has held that they're in favor of regional (near the epicenter of the refugee crisis) refugee camps rather than taking everyone to the EU. For example, in August Commissioner Johansson said in a statement regarding the crisis in Afghanistan:
A significant number of Afghan* nationals have already fled to neighbouring countries. We should work closely with the countries in the region and be ready to provide them with the necessary humanitarian and development assistance. We must step up our support as the situation evolves.
The EU has been engaged and has been supporting programmes linked to the forced displacement of Afghans for many years, in Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries (particularly Iran and Pakistan).
This view isn't new. For example, First Vice-President of Renew Europe (that's the liberal group in the European Parliament) and co-author of Renew Europe’s vision paper on Migration and Asylum Policy Malik Azmani has been a long time proponent of regional support (as an alternative to bringing in more refugees). He commented in January 2021:
We've been debating the humanitarian situation of migrants at our European borders for too long, with too little to show. My patience is running out. New partnerships between the EU and third countries are indispensable to a future-proof migration policy. It would relieve pressure on our external borders, provide help to refugees closer to the homes they fled and break the business model of human smugglers once and for all. Europe needs to address this without delay.
One argument in favor of regional support is that it's cheaper. For example, it involves less travelling and it puts less strain on refugee centers in the EU. So more potential refugees can be helped with the same amount of money. There's also a 'Not in My Backyard' problem where EU citizens may be in favor of helping refugees but less so if it affects them.
By facilitating refugee streams to the EU, Belarus might be seen as undermining the EU policy of regional refugee help.