Legal standards must be respected in Belarus migrant crisis, Germany says

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BRUSSELS, Dec 9 (Reuters) – Legal standards must be respected at the Belarus border, Germany said on Thursday, as EU interior ministers met to discuss curbing some migrants’ rights to ward off what the bloc has called a hybrid attack by Minsk.

The ministers will consider a proposal by the European Commission that would allow Poland, Lithuania and Latvia – all sharing a border with Belarus – to restrict migrants’ rights for six months and require them to claim asylum only at designated locations, among other measures.

Germany’s new interior minister, Nancy Faeser, called Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s behaviour inhumane as she arrived for her first meeting with EU counterparts in Brussels.

“He capitalises on the distress of the people to play for a domestic audience,” Faeser said, adding that migrants’ fundamental rights needed to be respected.

“It is important that legal standards are upheld at the border, which is why I would welcome a deployment of (the EU’s border agency) Frontex there, and it is just as important that aid organisations have access (to the migrants) at all times,” she added.

Thousands of migrants are stuck on the European Union’s eastern frontier, in what the EU says is a crisis Minsk engineered by distributing Belarusian visas in the Middle East, flying them in and pushing them across the border.

But Lukashenko says the EU has deliberately provoked a humanitarian crisis that needs to be resolved.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson argued the proposed measures complied with the EU treaty and fundamental rights while giving Poland and the Baltic states some leeway.

“In a situation of a crisis, with the instrumentalisation that we have at the border with Belarus, it’s important that member states should be able to make some derogations…,” Johansson told reporters.

“But it’s also important to comply with the treaty and the fundamental rights. And this is not possible to derogate from,” she said.

Johansson also rejected suggestions to extend the measures to other countries such as the divided island of Cyprus, where the border between the Turkish and Greek sides is seen as a loophole for migrants intent on crossing into the EU.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Robin Emmott; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Photo – New German Interior minister Nancy Faeser attends her first European home affairs interior ministers council in Brussels, Belgium, 09 December 2021. Ministers debate will mainly focus on external border and migration situation. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

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