Taoiseach condemns ‘heinous’ use of migrants by Belarus

Migrants transported to EU borders in retaliation to sanctions on Minsk

Micheál Martin spoke as EU leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss the contentious issue of migration amid a deteriorating situation on the union’s eastern border. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/Pool/AFP via Getty

Micheál Martin spoke as EU leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss the contentious issue of migration amid a deteriorating situation on the union’s eastern border. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/Pool/AFP via Getty

 

The traffic of people from the Middle East to the borders of the European Union by the Belarus regime as a tactic to pressure member states is “morally reprehensible” and has to stop, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheál Martin spoke as EU leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss the contentious issue of migration amid a deteriorating situation on the union’s eastern border, where several people have died after being caught in a stand-off between Belarusian and Polish border controls.

Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are expected to warn that the neighbouring regime of Alexander Lukashenko is transporting people from the Middle East and ushering them towards their borders as a form of “hybrid attack” designed to retaliate for EU sanctions on Minsk.

“It’s a heinous act. In my view it’s reprehensible that any government or any leadership would go to another country and traffic people essentially, and put them on the border to instrumentalise migration as a retaliatory measure against countries within the European Union,” the Taoiseach said.

“It is a very low form of behaviour. And I think it’s awfully, awfully reprehensible and should not be facilitated in any way.”

Mr Martin said he would support extending existing sanctions on Belarus to cover aviation. It comes as Irish aircraft leasing companies come under pressure from other EU countries over arrangements to rent planes to national carrier Belavia, which is accused of playing a role in the practice.

“We would favour it [sanctions] covering aviation,” Mr Martin said. “Obviously people have contracts that would have been prior to any of the issues around Belarus, so there are complexities around that. But we’re very clear that this is just morally unacceptable and has to stop.”

Growing issue

The discussion on migration is expected to extend beyond the issue of the EU’s eastern border, as Mediterranean countries are set to repeat long-time demands for more support in managing the much greater numbers of asylum seekers who arrive by sea.

The Netherlands has said that it is receiving the largest number of asylum seekers since the surge of 2015-2016, due to people slipping through controls on the external frontier. It warned that it will impose checks on its borders, despite EU free movement agreements, if it finds itself unable to accommodate people.

A combination of climate change and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa are expected to drive increasing numbers of people seeking safety and better futures in Europe in the coming years.

But plans for a common EU migration policy to jointly manage the issue have long been stalled, and border states feel they shoulder an excessive burden under current rules which state that people must lodge an asylum claim in the first EU country they arrive in, even if they ultimately aspire to settle in wealthier countries to the north.

Governments across the EU have hardened their approach towards migration over the last decade, and some member states have called for the union to fund the growing kilometres of border fences that line the bloc’s eastern boundaries.

Border agency Frontex has been allocated the largest amount of funding of any agency in the EU’s latest budget, but a majority of MEPs in the European Parliament this week called for part of the money to be frozen until it installs greater controls on the protection of human rights, after NGOs accused it of turning a blind eye to violations on the borders.