EU seeks to ease rules for Poland, Baltics in migration standoff with Belarus

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BRUSSELS, Dec 1 (Reuters) – The European Union executive on Wednesday will propose that Poland and its two Baltic neighbours handle migrants the West accuses Belarus of pushing to their shared border under quicker procedures that weaken protections for asylum seekers.

The EU has accused Belarus of flying in thousands of people from the Middle East and pushing them to cross into the bloc via Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, a route not used by migrants before. Belarus dismisses the accusations.

The Brussels-based EU Commission will offer that the right to claim asylum, enshrined in the international humanitarian law, be restricted to designated places such as chosen border points, according to sources familiar with the proposal.

That would mean migrants would not be able to claim asylum wherever they reach the border and might be required to walk many more kilometres through the forests, lakes and swamps straddling the eastern rim of the EU and NATO.

Rights groups have already criticised the anti-immigration government in Poland for reacting to increased arrivals by sending police, border guards and troops en masse to try to seal off the border, and failing to provide enough humanitarian aid and shelter in freezing conditions.

National authorities would have up to four weeks – rather than a maximum of 10 days currently envisaged in EU laws – to register asylum applications from people who made it to their territory, the sources said.

They would be allowed to keep registered asylum seekers for up to 16 weeks on their side of the border while they analyse their request for protection while denying them the standing right to be held in more suitable centres inside the country.

The Commission would demand only basic reception conditions such as food and water, medical care and assistance for the most vulnerable people – lower requirements than usual and not including education, among others.

It would also allow for quicker deportations of failed asylum seekers in another example of lowering safeguards for those seeking to get into Europe.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Photo – Lithuanian (L) and Belarus border signs are seen on the Lithuania – Belarus border near Medininkai, Lithuania. EPA-EFE/VALDA KALNINA

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