The group of migrants stuck at Poland’s border with Belarus for the past few days were threatened to be killed and beaten by the Belarussian services while Poland is still thinking about whether to consider their asylum requests or not. UNHCR has called on the Hungarian authorities to ensure access to asylum for everyone fleeing persecution and align with its international obligations after three years of embassy procedure. Austrian Minister, urging for reform of EU asylum system, is looking at possibilities of externalising asylum procedures.

A group of migrants, including 13 children, have been stuck at Poland’s border with Belarus since 27 May with authorities on both side denying them entry. The Belarussian services reportedly threatened the migrants that they will be beaten, killed or hunted by dogs if they return to the country. “As proof, they brought a Congolese girl to the group, who was bitten by the border guards’ dogs”, reported Grupa Granica, adding that a 2-year-old child was also bitten by dogs. On the other hand, a representative of Poland’s ombudsman’s office said after visiting the group that “the decision about whether to allow them into the country belongs to the Polish Border Guard”. “If these persons are indeed within the jurisdiction of the (Polish) Border Guard and declare their willingness to apply for international protection, then …. such applications should be accepted,” Maciej Grzeskowiak from Grupa Granica said. Meanwhile, another body was found on 24 May in the słocz River in the area of Łosiniany raising the total number of deaths, since the start of the humanitarian crisis on the border to at least 45. According to the updated AIDA report on Poland, access to the asylum procedure at the Belarusian border has been a major challenge in Poland in 2022 amid ongoing pushbacks at the Belarus-Poland border, an increase in fatalities and injuries and arbitrary detention of vulnerable migrants including children.

The Polish government announced on 1 June that it will not cooperate with the mandatory migrant relocation scheme proposed by the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU. “There will be no Poland’s consent for a compulsory relocation scheme,” a system that “has already proven absolutely ineffective and harmful,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk. “Time to concentrate on the elementary challenges and effective tools, not pseudo-remedies,” he added. According to Polish Permanent Representative Andrzej Sadoś, the proposal doesn’t ensure sufficient solidarity measures. He also said that Poland opposes the option of financial contribution instead of accepting migrants, which Sadoś called “a punishment” for a refusal to comply. In a meeting between the Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki and Dutch PM Mark Rutte, Morawiecki said that “Poland is countering illegal migration from Belarus” and called for joint mechanisms to deal with “the great migrant influx from southern Europe,” including “helping migrants in their countries of origin … because, in our view, Europe can’t admit any number of migrants”. Besides, more people are taking the Belarus route to enter the EU since 2021- “this time with Russian help”. According to Germany’s federal police, 8,687 people entered the country irregularly through the German-Polish border via Belarus in the nine months between July 2022 and March 2023 alone. “It is obvious that these illegal entries are part of a strategy to destabilize the EU”, said MP Andrea Lindholz, deputy chair of the Christian Social Union (CSU). Consequently, Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser met her Polish counterpart on 30 May and agreed on tightening control checks amid an increase in irregular entries via Poland and the Czech Republic. “I am certain that now, by strengthening border controls, this will lead to us now being able to cope jointly with the new migration pressure together,” Faeser said, adding that “the increased migration pressure through Poland from Belarus would be tackled by both countries “with the measures here at the border, but by both sides on either side of the border.”

Reportedly, the Hungarian government released hundreds of foreign human smugglers from prison to reduce prison overcrowding. According to data from the Ministry of Interior of Hungary, the number of crimes related to human smuggling increased from 90 to 1476 between 2019 and 2022.

Referring to the embassy procedure the outlet European Interest, states: “The surge in the number of smugglers is linked to the dismantling of the Hungarian asylum system. Asylum applications cannot be lodged either at the border or in Hungary since May 2020. In this way, the government is pushing vulnerable refugees into the arms of organised crime”, adding: “The inhumanity of the Hungarian system does not reduce the number of people in need of protection. Pushing people back and dismantling the asylum system will result in more crime, not fewer refugees”.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed its constant concern over “the near-total lack of access to asylum for refugees fleeing to Hungary from countries other than Ukraine and calls on the Government of Hungary to ensure that all people fleeing war, violence and persecution, no matter where they are fleeing from, have access to territory and asylum, in line with the country’s international and EU law obligations”. Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on 16 May ruled in favor of three asylum seekers who are represented by ECRE member Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC). The first case concerns a 14-year-old asylum-seeking child who was assaulted by field guards in Ásotthalom and thrown back to Serbia by Hungarian police and the second case concerns a 17-year-old asylum seeker who was arbitrarily detained for three months while the third is a 28-year-old torture victim asylum seeker who was detained despite severe health problems. The court once again ruled that the Hungarian authorities violated the rights of asylum seekers and obliged the government to pay compensation of a total of €17,500 in damages to the three victims. HHC stated that “It is not the first time this year that ECtHR has ruled against the Hungarian state for unlawfully, arbitrarily and without justification detaining asylum seekers who have applied for protection here. In May 2023, two former asylum seekers held in asylum detention won their case in the Strasbourg court”. Meanwhile, Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency said that the Article 7 procedure, the EU’s strongest possible tool, needs to continue in the case of Hungary as long as a systematic breach of EU values stands, adding that ““The Commission stands ready to support the Hungarian government in its reform efforts”.

Meanwhile, the Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner calls for urgent reform of the “so broken” European Asylum System. The central areas of reform of the future European migration and asylum pact the minister outlined are asylum procedures in third countries, fewer social welfare initiatives as well as faster asylum procedures. “The European asylum system is now so broken that we have to rebuild it. We have to step on the asylum brakes”, Karner pointed out, adding that “I’m pushing for the possibility, like Denmark already has [Denmark has opted-out of areas of EU policies], of carrying out asylum procedures in safe third countries”. Meanwhile, NGOs are alarmed about an increase in illegal pushbacks at the German-Austrian border. In a joint statement by Pushback Alarm Austria, Border Violence Monitoring Network, Bavarian Refugee Council: “Dozens of Syrian war survivors report formalized pushbacks by German officials in the border area with Austria. Those affected have been stranded in Austria for weeks, although they had previously asked for international protection in Germany. Despite clear national and international regulations prohibiting this, those affected were handed over to the Austrian police only a few hours after their arrival in Bavaria, or simply abandoned on the street in Salzburg”. The EU Commission threatened Austria with legal action over its extended Schengen border controls and launched a formal consultation procedure with all involved EU states. “The reintroduction of border controls must remain an exception, strictly limited in time and a last resort,” the Commission said in a statement. It called for the “gradual abolition” of controls and their “replacement by ‘alternative measures of police cooperation’”.

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