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Belarus has been in the news recently due to their attempt to transport a large number of refugees into the EU:

First Belarus arranged for a few hundred migrants to cross the border into Lithuania. Then the number grew to several thousand. Then Belarus brought more migrants to Minsk and pushed them into Latvia and Poland; thousands have since made their way to Germany. All this is likely just the start: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is sharply increasing the number of airline flights from Middle Eastern cities to Minsk.

What is the EU's official explanation for people entering their borders this way, given that on paper their policies are supposed to be pro-refugee? Have there been any official statements about this from EU officials or other high-ranking European politicians?

Note that I'm not interested in why they're opposed to Lukashenko or the government of Belarus. I'm specifically interested in why they're opposed to people from the Middle East flying into Belarus, crossing the European border and then applying for asylum. Presumably most of the people crossing the border are genuine refugees, so on paper the EU should not be denying them the right to seek asylum.

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    Isn't it going to be the same reason the UK dislikes refuges arriving from France? They are already in a safe country, the reason they are choosing to migrate from that country is for economic reasons and not safety reasons...?
    – user16741
    Nov 12, 2021 at 2:58
  • @Moo the UK left the EU and has always been officially hostile to refugees. EU officials are different and have never openly stated they dislike the idea of refugees, at least those from Western Europe. Nov 12, 2021 at 3:08
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    Given the French refugee crisis has been ongoing since the 1990s, the argument that the UK has left the EU holds no water. And the belief that the UK is hostile to refugees is a perceived one, not an official stance despite you implying it is. The fact that at various points over the past 25 years there has been huge refugee camps in France, full of people waiting to get into the UK illegally, and a complete reluctance on the part of the French to do anything, I think the UKs stance is entirely reasonable.
    – user16741
    Nov 12, 2021 at 3:12
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    Why the absolute terms? A rich society can accept a degree of dependents, and morally probably should - but should it accept everyone with no limit? No, because thats the rapid route to becoming an ex-rich society. But theres no place for absolutes here - and theres a world of difference between a refugee and an economic migrant, with most of what we are currently seeing being the result of the latter, not the former.
    – user16741
    Nov 12, 2021 at 4:30
  • Is there not evidence that the government of Belarus has provided inducement, and has arranged travel for the refugees to Minsk, with the prospect of easy passage into the EU. And moreover that Belarus has done this, with the backing of Russia, malevolently, simply to undermine the EU. If the EU accepts such 'migrants', a never-ending stream will ensue. It is one thing to accept, for processing, refugees who have arrived by their own efforts - something altogether different to accept people who are simply being exploited for political ends by a hostile state.
    – WS2
    Nov 18, 2021 at 0:07

2 Answers 2

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Ever since the EU backed Greece in the similar confrontation with Turkey, the official stance is that the EU won't allow "autocrats" to use refugees as a weapon against the EU. If anything the wording/stance has hardened:

2020:

“The events at the Greek-Turkish border clearly point to politically motivated pressure on the EU’s external border,” the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said before talks with Erdogan. “Finding a solution to this situation will require relieving the pressure that is put on the border.”

or

"This is no longer a refugee problem," he said. "This is a blatant attempt by Turkey to use desperate people to promote its geopolitical agenda and to divert attention from the horrible situation in Syria."

2021:

“We consider the behaviour of the Lukashenko government as a hybrid attack,” she said. “The people used by Lukashenko are victims. We must help them. No one’s life should be used for political issues, and this is an instrumentalisation of migration to put political pressure on the European Union.”

nearly the same

“Rest assured, we will continue to stand together with Lithuania, Latvia and Poland and let's call it what it is, a hybrid attack to destabilise Europe. We'll never tolerate that,” she continued.

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    But that’s their stance on other governments. Did they ever say anything about the refugees themselves? It seems like the implication of their statements is that said refugees are harmful for Europe but I haven’t seen any direct statements on the matter. Nov 13, 2021 at 1:13
  • It could also be that they believe that Belarus or Turkey are purposefully selecting and sending criminals over the border (Trump had a similar theory about Mexico) vs normal refugees who are good people. But I’m curious what the official stance is. Nov 13, 2021 at 1:14
  • @JonathanReez, there are a number of stances from different leaders and officials (this is the EU ...). One is that while they have nothing specific against those people freezing in the forest, and while the total numbers are tiny, they don't want to let Belarus get away with it. See yesterday's statement by the German foreign secretary, for instance. There is also fear of a domino effect like 2015. Generally, some in the EU understand the need for young jobseekers, they'd rather pick and choose in an orderly fashion.
    – o.m.
    Nov 16, 2021 at 18:53
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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 Lithuanian territory.

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:

  1. 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.

  2. The border Poland-Belarus is closed

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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    So technically speaking the EU still claims that the current wave of refugees from/via Belarus is still good for society, it’s just that they want to spend money more effectively by helping refugees abroad? Nov 12, 2021 at 9:20
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    I thought the safe country rule is official written down EU policy? I seem to remember that Germany has an official list of 'safe countries', there was some controversy when they tried to put Afghanistan on the list.
    – quarague
    Nov 12, 2021 at 10:06
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    @quarague I'm not sure. Here's some info on the rule in the Netherlands, but it only mentions Dutch law in discussing whether that rejection reason applies. The rejection rule isn't always applied, for example many of the recent Afghani refugees travelled to the Netherlands via Qatar or Pakistan because there are no direct connections.
    – JJJ
    Nov 12, 2021 at 17:45
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    This does not answer the question. What is the EU official explanation....
    – markvs
    Nov 18, 2021 at 1:24
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    @markvs There are a couple of links in the question, but they do not actually support the (misleading) assertions in the question. Furthermore, the vague assertion that the EU's policy is "pro refugee" doesn't explain the perceived link between that policy and any particular route that refugees might take. The EU has not been complaining about the refugees themselves but about the actions of the government of Belarus. The question mischaracterizes the political situation, which would be obvious if the asker consulted official sources. I did post a comment on the question.
    – phoog
    Nov 18, 2021 at 13:18

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