The Council extends the implementation of Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) until March 2025. On 4 October member states agreed mandate on EU law dealing with crisis situations despite vetoes from Hungary and Poland. Lithuania plans to add physical barriers to its border areas with Belarus and Russia.

Member states agreed to extend Temporary Protection for all Ukrainian refugees until March 2025 in order to provide certainty for over four million refugees from Ukraine currently living in the EU. ECRE along with other NGOs jointly released a statement earlier in March this year advocating for the extension of the Temporary Protection status until March 2025, calling it “a matter of urgency”. The signatories stated that TPD extension would support access to residence permits, long-term housing, employment and education, and freedom of movement. The Commission President, Von der Leyen, welcomed the Council’s decision saying that it gives a “strong message” that Europe “stands by the millions of refugees from Ukraine, as long as it takes”. The Council also approved the extension of temporary protection for those fleeing Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine for a year, from March 4, 2024, to March 4, 2025

The European Council also announced that member states had “reached an agreement sealing their negotiating mandate on a regulation on crisis situations, including instrumentalisation of migration, and force majeure in the field of migration and asylum. This position will form the basis of negotiations between the Council presidency and the European Parliament”. ECRE Director, Catherine Woollard commented on the agreement in this week’s editorial. The agreement was reached as a result of qualified majority and reportedly despite vetoes from Hungary and Poland and Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia abstaining. ECRE director Catherine Woollard wrote after the prior agreement in June 2023, that Poland and Hungary oppose “primarily on the basis that they don’t believe that Europe should have an asylum system”. Hungary rejected the proposed pact’s crisis measures as according to the State Secretary of the Interior Ministry, Bence Retvari, the regulation discussed is a “migrant magnet” that seeks “further settlement of unlawful migrants” and not protection of Europe’s borders. Retvari argues that consensus-based decision-making is important on strategic issues, such as the migration part, stressing that qualified majority decisions would bypass individual member countries, which in turn would still have to manage the crisis situations. Retvari pointed out to his country’s “success” of detaining a total of 135,000 irregular migrants at the country’s southern border up to this point while PM chief security advisor, György Bakondi, said that Hungary arrested about one million migrants at the country’s southern border since 2015. Prime Minister’s political advisor, Balázs Orbán, considered that increased arrivals of people in Lampedusa is “a clear sign of the failure of the EU’s migration pact” which had been approved in spite of the objections of Hungary as well as Poland. Orbán insisted on his country’s position – “unlawful migrants” must be halted from reaching EU countries, all asylum applications should be assessed outside Europe, and countries of origin and transit must be offered help – while underlining the need for a “new leader” in the next European Parliament elections. “Under the brutal pressure of migration, Brussels is not part of the solution, but it is partly the problem itself”, he said. The Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said on 29 September that his country would uphold its veto on the EU asylum and migration Pact that introduces a new solidarity mechanism. The PM called such measures “an attempt to attack not only the sovereignty of Poland and other member states” but also “an attempt to destabilize the EU in a non-democratic manner”.

The Polish PM’s statement comes as his Law and Justice (PiS) party leads a campaign for the “protection” of Poland from “illegal migration” in the upcoming parliamentary elections on 15 October. “On October 15, we can say no to illegal immigration and to the forced relocation of illegal immigrants,” the prime minister said. “Let’s do it first as Poles; our voice will be heard throughout Europe. Our security is not given to us once and for all. We are fighting for Poland’s security,’ Morawiecki stated. “Security is a paramount value, and only the government of Law and Justice is the guarantor of this security. We must be aware that only Law and Justice is able to stop illegal immigration to Poland,” he added. Besides, Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk, who was described by Morawiecki as a “dangerous man”, led a march in the capital, Warsaw, to mobilize supporters ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections. “When I see these hundreds of thousands of smiling faces, I have a good feeling that the breakthrough moment in the history of our homeland is coming,” Tusk said, underlining that “Nothing can stop this force”. “Let no one in the ranks of power up there have any illusions. This change is inevitable”, he added. Tusk, leader of the centrist Civic Coalition, reportedly has claimed that PiS assures the public that “it protects Poland from Muslim migrants while quietly granting them permits” in an attempt to “repackage” xenophobia to voters of the conservative party. In a video released in July, he said “Poles must regain control over this country and its borders”.

Meanwhile, the EU demands a “full clarity” from Polish authorities on allegations regarding thousands of visas issued since 2021 apparently in exchange for bribes as the initial response from Poland did “not sufficiently answer all the questions asked”. The visa-for-cash scandal has been covered up by the Polish ruling party in fear of its impact on the results of upcoming elections. “We take this issue very seriously and we expect full cooperation from the Polish authorities,” European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas said. “If third-country nationals have been allowed the right of free movement within Schengen without respecting the appropriate conditions and procedures, this would amount to a violation of EU law,” Schinas added. Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers underlined that “This latest scandal is not a stand-alone issue, it is symptomatic of a wider dismantling of the rule of law in Poland”. Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic are establishing a joint task force to crack down on “inhumane smuggling crime” and “illegal immigration” as German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser announced. The joint task force — which Faeser coordinated with Czech Interior Minister Vít Rakušan and Poland’s Mariusz Kamiński, will be headed by Europol’s EMPACT program, an EU security initiative aiming to address “threats posed by organised and serious international crime”. In addition, pushbacks continue to be reported at the Polish-Belarussian border. According to official statistics, between May and August 2023, a total of 4,051 persons were denied entry at this border, including 3,462 Ukrainian nationals. A total of 3,801 Ukrainian nationals were denied entry at Polish borders due to the lack of relevant documents.

Lithuanian authorities plan to install physical barriers in marshy border areas with Belarus and Russia in addition to the areas where barriers are already in place amid ongoing pushbacks. In a report released by BRAP initiative, State border officers reported having “turned away” 463 persons between 1 May- 30 August 2023, while 23 asylum requests were lodged at border crossing points during the same months.

For further information: