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EU border countries must not legalise migrant pushbacks, says MEP

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By Euronews
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In this Sept. 1, 2021 file photo, migrants are seated, after crossing the border from Belarus into Poland in the village of Usnarz Gorny, Poland.
In this Sept. 1, 2021 file photo, migrants are seated, after crossing the border from Belarus into Poland in the village of Usnarz Gorny, Poland.   -   Copyright  Czarek Sokolowski/The Associated Press

As the situation at the EU's external border with Belarus worsens, one MEP has warned that more member states should not be allowed to legalise migrant pushbacks similar to what Hungary did in 2015.

For months now, large numbers of people from the Middle East and Africa have been trying to illegally enter Poland, Lithuania and Latvia from Belarus, with authorities reacting with a firm hand.

They accuse Belarus and Russia of encouraging the migration to trigger instability within the entire EU, calling it "hybrid warfare".

But they themselves stand accused of cruel behaviour by pushing migrants back and, in Poland's case, imposing a state of emergency at the border that has prevented human rights workers from going there to help.

Migrants and asylum-seekers embarking on this new migration route to the bloc are now ending up trapped between frontiers.

Dutch MEP Tineke Strik, who recently returned from the region, says the situation is likely to worsen if more EU countries go ahead with legalising pushbacks.

"Hungary is now the only member state which has legalised so-called pushbacks," Strik told Euronews. "There are already a number of judgments from the ECJ making clear this is absolutely a violation of EU law.

"Now, the Commission should really be tough and consistent towards those three countries because it's Lithuania, Poland and Latvia that are adopting the same legislation. If the European Commission doesn't act, I am really afraid that we may end up with more member states adopting the same policies."

The new influx from Belarus has drawn comparisons to the 2015 migrant crisis when thousands came across the Mediterranean, leaving deep divisions in Europe ever since.

Aiming to deal with future waves, the European Commission came up with a new pact on migration and asylum one year ago.

But opposition from many member states has stalled its progress.

Catherine Woollard, Director at European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), told Euronews that regardless of what happens with the Commission's latest proposal, there will still be problems implementing whatever is eventually agreed.

"Whatever happens with the pact, in the meantime, member states are not operating in a legal vacuum," Woollard said. "They have clear obligations under international law and under EU law. So the flagrant lack of compliance and the tolerance of violations, particularly at the borders, is highly concerning.

"It's also relevant because if the pact is eventually adopted, it would face the same challenges when it comes to implementation if measures are not taken now to address those problems," she added.

Speaking in Tallinn on Wednesday, Hungary's foreign minister Péter Szijjártó said: "International organisations are beginning to lose their sanity on migration altogether, even though clear speech is needed right now and to strengthen every single country under pressure in the importance of border control."