Anhaltendes Leid an der EU-Außengrenze Polens

Seit fast drei Jahren befinden sich Schutzsuchende im Wald an der polnisch-belarussischen Grenze in einem Limbo von Pushbacks und Gewalt. Mit dem Machtwechsel in Polen hatten viele gehofft, dass der neue Ministerpräsident Donald Tusk die menschenunwürdige Behandlung von Asylsuchenden im Grenzwald zu Belarus beenden wird. Stattdessen fordert er nun eine Stärkung des Grenzzauns, der zum Teil mit EU-Geldern finanziert werden soll, und schürt die Angst vor Belarus und den Schutzsuchenden, die zwischen den beiden Ländern festsitzen.

2021: Eine neue Fluchtroute nach Europa

Die neue Route entstand, weil der belarussische Machthaber Lukaschenko als Reaktion auf EU-Sanktionen im August 2021 damit angefangen hat, Menschen aus Syrien, dem Irak, Afghanistan und anderen Ländern nach Belarus einreisen zu lassen, damit sie an die EU-Außengrenze kommen. Lukaschenko hat die leidenden Menschen missbraucht, um Druck auf die EU auszuüben.

Polen wirft Belarus eine „Instrumentalisierung“ der Schutzsuchenden vor und erklärt die Geflüchteten zur Waffe eines „hybriden Krieges“. Damit rechtfertigt die Regierung in Warschau die anhaltende Militarisierung der Grenze und die menschenrechtswidrigen Pushbacks, die dort stattfinden. In diesem Zusammenhang wurde auch eine militärische Sperrzone errichtet, in der die Schutzsuchenden festsitzen und in der jede Hilfe von außen, egal ob von NGOs oder lokalen Anwohner:innen, kriminalisiert wird.

Nach wie vor viele Ankünfte

Auch wenn es weniger sind als 2021, kommen bis heute Schutzsuchende mit russischen oder belarussischen Visa an die polnische Grenze und versuchen, in die EU zu gelangen. Lokale Aktivist:innen von Grupa Granica helfen vor Ort und dokumentieren Menschenrechtsverletzungen. Bei einem Treffen diese Woche haben sie berichtet, dass jetzt im Frühjahr und Sommer die meisten Menschen versuchen, die Grenze im Białowieża-Wald zu überqueren. Der ist auch durch seine vielen Sümpfe und Moore gefährlich; im Winter wird es außerdem so kalt, dass viele Menschen erfrorene Gliedmaßen aufweisen oder gänzlich erfrieren. 

Seit Beginn der Krise sind mindestens 60 Menschen gestorben. Die Zivilgesellschaft geht allerdings von einer deutlich höheren Dunkelziffer aus. Allein im Zeitraum von Dezember 2023 bis April 2024 hat Grupa Granica mehr als 1.700 illegale Pushbacks, fünf Tote und 25 vermisste Menschen gezählt. Es wurde auch ein Kind von einer Mutter geboren, die versucht hat, aus Eritrea in die EU zu flüchten.

Pushbacks sind die Realität

Viele dieser Menschen äußern an der Grenze den Wunsch nach Asyl, wodurch ihnen nach europäischem und internationalem Recht ein rechtsstaatliches Asylverfahren zusteht, in dem ihr Schutzanspruch geprüft wird. In der Realität berichten die meisten stattdessen davon, dass sie gewaltsam zurückgewiesen werden, manche Betroffene bereits mehrfach. Dabei werden von Grenzschützer:innen auf beiden Seiten oft mutwillig Handys zerstört und Tränengas, Schlagstöcke und sogar Gewehre eingesetzt – auch gegenüber Kindern und Jugendlichen. Im Herbst 2023 hat ein heute 23-jähriger syrischer Schutzsuchender mit seinen Freunden versucht, von Belarus nach Polen zu fliehen. Ihm wurde dabei von einem polnischen Grenzschutzbeamten in den Rücken geschossen, „versehentlich“.

Neue Regierung, alte Taktiken?

Mit dem Regierungswechsel in Polen haben einige auch auf eine menschlichere Migrationspolitik an der Grenze zu Belarus gehofft, vor allem weil Donald Tusk ja eine Rückkehr zur Rechtsstaatlichkeit in Polen eingeleitet hat. Leider gilt diese Rückkehr zur Rechtsstaatlichkeit offensichtlich nicht für Schutzsuchende. Stattdessen hat Tusk diese Woche die Grenzregion zwischen Polen und Belarus besucht und eine Verstärkung des 2022 gebauten Grenzzauns versprochen. Der ist bereits jetzt 180 Kilometer lang und 5,5 Meter hoch, mit Stacheldraht verstärkt und elektronisch überwacht. Vor der anstehenden Europawahl bleibt Polen trotz neuer Regierung also bei einer restriktiven Migrationspolitik, ausgetragen auf dem Rücken von schutzsuchenden Menschen im Wald zu Belarus.

Ein Blick in die Zukunft

Hinzu kommt die endgültige Verabschiedung der sogenannten GEAS-Reform (mehr dazu hier auf meiner Website), in der vor allem die Krisenverordnung das Wort „Instrumentalisierung“ im Europäischen Recht kodifiziert. Das heißt, dass im Fall einer sogenannten „Instrumentalisierung“ von Schutzsuchenden durch Nicht-EU-Staaten die Grenzverfahren massiv ausgeweitet werden können. Asylsuchende können in solchen Fällen an den Außengrenzen inhaftiert werden. Auch wenn sich erst zeigen muss, wie diese Verordnung in der Praxis umgesetzt wird, laufen wir damit Gefahr, das Asylrecht weiter zu schwächen und anderen Mitgliedstaaten eine Grundlage für Menschenrechtsverletzungen an unseren Außengrenzen zu liefern.

Study shows: German internal border controls partly contrary to EU law

I have commissioned a critical analysis of Germany's internal border controls for the Green Group in the European Parliament to see whether they are compatible with EU law. You can read the whole study here on German and English read.

The current situation in the Schengen area

The absence of internal border controls is a fundamental principle of European law and the basic principle of the free Schengen area. Although internal border controls in the Schengen area should therefore be a strict exception, there has been a massive increase in these controls in Germany and other member states since 2015. According to the German government, the main reasons for this are more irregular migration, the threat of terrorism and the coronavirus pandemic. However, the question arises as to what extent the reintroduction of these internal border controls is compatible with EU legal obligations.

When internal border controls are permitted

The Schengen Borders Code only allows internal border controls in exceptional situations, for example if there is a threat to the security and order of a Member State. However, internal border controls may only be used as a last resort and may only be reintroduced temporarily, as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has also confirmed.

The practice in Germany

Germany does not always seem to adhere to these regulations. The various federal governments have repeatedly extended internal border controls, especially at the border with Austria, since 2015. This is a clear violation of EU law. The expert opinion I commissioned comes to the conclusion that there is no legal basis for the controls at the border with Austria, which have been taking place since November 2017 "for reasons of migration and security policy". This means that these controls have been unlawful since then. 

The main problem here is that the German government is referring to increasingly vague risk situations instead of actual threats, as required by the Schengen Borders Code. In addition, border controls are often disproportionate.

Internal border controls are politically motivated

Overall, border controls increasingly appear to have a socio-political symbolic effect. At the same time, the European Commission is finding it difficult to stop this structural erosion of the Schengen Borders Code and is only insufficiently fulfilling its mandate and role as "guardian of the treaties". 

The way the German administrative courts deal with complaints against these internal border controls is similarly problematic. Here, the admissibility requirements are interpreted so narrowly that complaints against internal border controls are dismissed as inadmissible. Those affected therefore currently have no effective legal protection against unlawful internal border controls. This primarily affects EU citizens.

The reform in response – effectiveness to be awaited

After years of systematic misapplication of the Schengen Borders Code, the reform of certain parts of the law was recently completed. You can read more about this here in my briefing. The current reform of the Schengen Borders Code is therefore a response to these challenges. On the one hand, it expands the member states' scope for action, for example in the case of increased migration controls at internal borders. On the other hand, the requirements for Member States' internal border controls are being tightened. Whether this will lead to a reduction in internal border controls in practice depends above all on the Commission's willingness to enforce the new rules of the Schengen Borders Code.

Briefing: Reform of the Schengen Borders Code

What is it about?

The Schengen Borders Code regulates entry conditions and border controls at the EU's external and internal borders. It deals, for example, with the question of the conditions under which internal border controls are possible.

The Borders Code is an important instrument for ensuring freedom of movement in Europe; however, Member States often do not comply with the Code. For example, they introduce internal border controls and disregard the legal basis for them. These controls jeopardize the Schengen area by hindering the free movement of people, goods and services, which is so important for the functioning of the EU and its associated countries (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). In border regions in particular, internal border controls not only cost a lot of money, but also restrict people's lives. At the same time, they often do not lead to the achievement of self-imposed goals, for example because they cannot prevent asylum applications, although this is repeatedly claimed.

The reform

The European Commission attempted to reform the Schengen Borders Code in 2017, but the member states were unable to agree on a common position.

After the Member States closed internal borders during the coronavirus pandemic without coordination at EU level, the Commission proposed a new reform that includes provisions for major health emergencies, such as pandemics.
The Commission proposal from December 2021 was controversial to say the least, followed by an even more problematic Negotiating position of the Member States. Despite the often emphasized importance of the Schengen area for the realization of freedom of movement in the EU, these texts would have led to Member States being able to introduce endless internal border controls under certain circumstances. The European Parliament, on the other hand, with its Negotiating position a compromise that protects the Schengen area.

ECJ ruling on border controls

Parallel to the reform process of the Schengen Borders Code, the European Court of Justice has ruled in a Basic ruling not only interpreted the duration of internal border controls under the current code very strictly, but also clearly stated that endless internal border controls violate the freedom of movement enshrined in EU law. This made it clear that freedom of movement is a right that EU member states may not restrict indefinitely. The co-legislators (Council and Parliament) must therefore find a balance between "freedom" and "security" that only works with a fixed time limit for internal border controls in the reformed Schengen Borders Code.

The final compromise

The interinstitutional negotiations led to a Compromiseon which we will vote in the European Parliament in the last plenary week of the legislative period (end of April 2024).
We are critical of the outcome of the negotiations because: The maximum Duration of internal border controls to be increased from the current 6 months to 3 years. However, Member States have a new, more detailed reporting obligation when they introduce internal border controls. In return, the Commission has slightly more duties and powers to monitor application. Experts doubt whether this will lead to border controls being more restricted.

It will also there are additional reasons to allow internal border controls. This sensibly includes a health emergency on a large scale, but also the highly controversial reason of unauthorized secondary migration of third-country nationals on a large scale. This effectively legalizes the practice that has been in place since 2015 of member states introducing internal border controls in order to "curb" "irregular" migration.

The outcome of the negotiations also includes a new procedure for the internal transfer of third-country nationals without the right to stay between member states. This procedure will probably lead to an increase in "racial profiling" and, in the worst case, even Chain deportations can take place.

The introduction of the term "Instrumentalization", Member States can limit the number of border crossing points and their opening hours and intensify border surveillance if they feel that they are being instrumentalized. However, the exact cases that are considered instrumentalization are not defined at all and are therefore left to the discretion of the member states. In addition, the possibilities for police checks and the general number of police officers deployed on the territory have been Control and monitoring technologies expanded. These additional provisions shall enter into force immediately after publication if Parliament and the Council have given their consent.

In practice, however, it remains to be seen whether the Member States will actually comply with these new rules and whether the Commission will use its powers as guardian of the treaties to ensure that they do.

Study: Beyond borders, beyond boundaries

My Dutch colleague Tineke Strik and I have commissioned a critical analysis of the EU's financial support for border regimes in Tunisia and Libya on behalf of the Green Group in the European Parliament.

You can find the entire study here German, English and French.

A two-page summary is available on German, English, Italian, French and Arabic.

Clear failings on the part of the Commission 

The border protection measures co-financed by the European Commission and the member states regularly result in serious human rights violations. These include the use of physical force or deliberate collisions by the Tunisian coast guard or the interception and deprivation of liberty of migrants, enslavement, forced labor, imprisonment, extortion and smuggling by the Libyan coast guard. 

These are enormous sums, over € 70 million each for Libya and Tunisia for the periods from 2018 to 2022; a detailed overview can be found in the first chapter of the study.

When allocating funds, the risk of human rights violations is not sufficiently taken into account, despite corresponding provisions in the NDICI regulation, among others, through which most measures have been financed since 2021. Even during the project period, it is unclear how the projects are monitored, as the European Commission does not provide any documents, citing confidentiality.

Next steps

Funds should only be disbursed if it can be ensured that they will not be used to support measures that are associated with human rights violations. A human rights impact assessment must not only be carried out at the beginning of the project; programs must also be reviewed and, if necessary, adjusted or interrupted during their term. To this end, it is important that sufficient documents are made available to the European Parliament. Civil society also has an important role to play here; it is important that civil society organizations are consulted in funding decisions.

Further information

In order to present the study, we held a conference on the same day. Event The human rights aspects in particular were discussed with Seawatch, the authors of the study and DG NEAR; a recording of the event can be made available on request.

You can download the summary (EN/DE/FR/IT/AR) and the entire study (DE/EN/FR) here download. The SZ also has reports.

Parliament condemns attacks on press freedom and rule of law in Greece

Today (Wednesday, February 7), we Members of the European Parliament voted for A resolution on the rule of law and media freedom in Greece. The Christian Democrats, together with the extreme right, had tried to prevent the vote and clear demands on the rule of law and media freedom. You can find the exact voting behavior here. In Greece, cases of spying on and harassment of journalists, opposition politicians and civil servants as well as attempts to intimidate independent media through targeted strategic lawsuits are on the rise. Last year, the Christian Democrat Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and members of the Greek government refused to meet an official delegation from the European Parliament.

Bottom of the league in press freedom

All governments, even conservative ones, must abide by the law and human rights. In Greece, attacks on democracy, fundamental rights and media freedom are part of everyday life. In the Press freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders Greece is ranked 107th in the EU and is even worse than Qatar. The criminalization and intimidation of people seeking protection, of people who offer help to refugees and of journalists who report on refugees is shameful and must come to an end.

The Greek government's unwillingness to investigate the Pylos shipwreck, which claimed over 600 lives, is indicative of a policy that the EU must condemn. The Greek government must not be allowed to get away with blatant breaches of the law because it is covered up by its conservative party colleagues. It is important that the European Parliament has taken a clear position today, even if the conservative and right-wing groups have tried to further obscure the reality in Greece with their motions.

What does the resolution say?

The European Parliament's resolution expresses serious concerns about press freedom in Greece. It highlights the threats of physical attacks, verbal attacks, including those on high-ranking politicians and ministers, the invasion of their privacy through spyware and strategic lawsuits (SLAPPs). The Greek government is urged to take all necessary steps to bring the perpetrators to justice and restore a safe environment for all journalists.

Systematic pushbacks

Regarding the systematic pushbacks and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, the European Parliament expresses its grave concern. It highlights the lack of progress in the investigation into the shipwreck of June 14, 2023, in which a fishing boat sank in the Ionian Sea off the coast of Pylos, killing more than 600 people on board. The resolution condemns systematic pushbacks and violence against people seeking protection, their arbitrary detention and the theft of their belongings. It expresses criticism of the conditions in the reception centers, particularly in relation to the protection of individuals from crime and access to basic sanitation.

Commission to enforce the law

Parliament calls on the Commission to assess compliance with EU law on border control and EU funding and condemns the Commission's dramatic failure to enforce EU laws on reception conditions, pushbacks and human rights. Instead of praising Greece, the EU Commission should initiate infringement proceedings. We call on the European Commission to use all means at its disposal to uphold European values and the rule of law.

Background

Study commissioned by me: "A lawless space – the systematic criminalization of refugees for driving a boat or car to Greece"

The plenary debate "Rule of law and media freedom in Greece" with a speech from me already took place in the plenary session in January and can be followed here.

GEAS: Not a good day for European asylum law

The Council and Parliament have agreed on a reform towards a common European asylum system. Here you will find a brief overview of the key results of the negotiations on the GEAS package.

The Council has prevailed over the Parliament in almost all relevant points. This reform missed the opportunity to put EU asylum policy on the right track. Instead, bureaucratic procedures and tougher asylum laws will now suddenly deter people from fleeing to Europe. This approach has already failed in recent years. We now face the threat of more irregular migration and a culture of disintegration towards people seeking protection. This policy of deterrence is obviously not weakening right-wing populism, but rather strengthening it. 

Detention-like conditions

A system is being created in which many people are to be locked up in detention-like conditions during their asylum procedures, a lot of additional bureaucracy is being created and significantly longer asylum procedures are threatened. The new solidarity mechanism will not be able to compensate for the additional chaos and suffering this will cause.

Many important details have simply not yet been finalized. There was not enough time to negotiate all the articles. Due to the political requirement to achieve a result by the end of the year, the content was subordinated to the goal of reaching a quick agreement. This is not how legislation should take place.

Particularly in the polarized debate on asylum policy, Europe deserves the Council and Parliament to be well rested and not to decide on key points in late-night meetings that leave many questions unanswered.

Scope for improvement

Parliament and the Council still have to vote on the legal acts. We will then work to ensure that the legal acts are implemented as sensibly as possible. In addition, it is now all the more important to use the scope for improvements beyond the current reform, as it contains many loopholes. 

Questions of integration, cooperation with third countries or labor migration play no role in the current asylum reform. We will continue to fight for binding distribution, better standards at the external borders and efficient asylum procedures. This is the only way to achieve a fair distribution of responsibility for the major challenges of asylum and migration policy. In addition, human rights and the Geneva Convention on Refugees must continue to apply in Europe. It is too early today to call a swan song for the right of asylum, even if this is not a good day for the right of asylum.

Question to the Commission on EU-funded detention center in Bosnia

On April 19, I sent the following question to the Commission. The Commission has again taken more time than it should to reply. In the meantime Bosnian politician announces end of prison facilitybecause there is no legal basis for it. My question about the problematic wording of the Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi is simply ignored by him.

My request

In November 2022, Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi visited Bosnia and Herzegovina and announced that an additional EUR 500,000 will be used for the Lipa camp and detention center in order to âfake asylum seekersâ can be imprisoned[1]until they are returned to their countries of origin. The EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Johann Sattler, on the other hand, said last weekthat people may be detained there for a maximum of 72 hours. The EU funds for Lipa come from the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA).

The cantonal authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina state that the construction permit for the detention center in Lipa camp was never issued. The Prime Minister of Una-Sana Canton publicly expresses his concern about the lack of information about the object. Please answer the following questions individually.

  • 1.What is the Commission's view of the term âfake asylum seekersâ and how do they differ from âcorrectâ asylum seekers?
  • How many people can be detained in the Lipa camp and for what purpose, and how is it ensured that the money is not used for the detention of persons previously illegally deported from the EU by Croatian authorities?
  • 3.in the Commission's view, is the treatment of persons in the Lipa camp in accordance with EU and international law?

Answer given by Olivér Várhelyi on behalf of the European Commission (2.08.2023)

It is one of the priorities of the EU, in accordance with international law, the principles and values of the EU and the protection of fundamental rights, as stated in the letters of the President of the Commission to the Council, The recent conclusions of the European Council and the EU Action Plan for the Western Balkans. Improve border management, ensure faster asylum procedures, combat migrant smuggling, and promote cooperation on readmission and return in order to counter irregular migration via the Western Balkan route.

The multifunctional reception and identification center in Lipa serves several purposes: Migrants are registered, their status is determined, and their identity is verified upon arrival and departure from the center. The center has significantly improved conditions for migrants and averted another humanitarian crisis, like the one in the winter of 2020â2021. At that time, several migrants were stranded without shelter in devastating conditions. The center is under the authority of the Foreigners Authority of the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and can accommodate up to 1,500 people.

The new detention facility in Lipa will be a separate and fully self-contained facility that can accommodate up to twelve persons. In certain cases, in line with international standards and the EU acquis, temporary restrictions on freedom of movement and detention measures can be introduced here before the persons concerned are transferred to the immigration center in Lukavica (East Sarajevo). The Law on Foreigners (âZakon o strancimaâ) of BiH defines the circumstances under which the restriction of free movement can be approved. As immigration centers must comply with BiH legislation and international humanitarian standards, the EU regularly seeks information from authorities and partners on the management of the centers and frequently conducts on-site visits.

European Parliament calls for sea rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea

Finally! The EU Parliament has in a resolution clearly spoken out in favor of an EU sea rescue mission. In addition, we demand, among other things, that information about sea rescue cases be shared immediately, that the criminalization of sea rescue organizations be refrained from and that ships be allowed into the next safe port after sea rescues.
I negotiated the resolution for our group and even if we cannot immediately force the Member States to implement the measures, it is a clear sign of where the majority in Europe stands.

The deaths in the Mediterranean cannot be tolerated any longer.

I took the cover photo on a sea rescue mission after we gave people life jackets. Often on the overcrowded inflatable boats you can hardly see a piece of boat – only dozens of people in acute danger of their lives. This reality that every day is decided on life or death of many people at our external borders and the decision is too often that people just have to die in case of doubt, that must never become normal. But it has become normal and we have to change that again. Parliament's decision unfortunately does not bring about any concrete change, because Parliament cannot decide on operations and has only very limited powers in this area. But it does increase the pressure on the heads of state and government and sends a clear signal against right-wing populism.

Here are some of the demands from the resolution

  • We call for an EU maritime rescue mission.
  • Member States and the EU should finally comply with applicable international law and come to the aid of people in distress at sea.
  • We demand that the Commission creates a new, reliable and sustainable approach that ensures sea rescue and that we are no longer constantly dependent on ad-hoc solutions. The Commission should provide material, financial and operational support for this.
  • Member States and Frontex should proactively operate search and rescue missions and provide or deploy all necessary and available boats and equipment to save lives.
  • All Mediterranean states and Frontex should share or provide information on sea emergencies to ensure rescue.
  • Rescued people should be assigned to the nearest safe haven.
  • The Commission should set up a sea rescue contact group to coordinate missions by Frontex and member states and regularly inform the Parliament about it.
  • Frontex should share information about its operations and comply with Union law, just as member states do.
  • The Commission must ensure that Frontex and Member States only enter safe ports after rescue and do not expose asylum seekers to danger.
  • The dead of Pylos should be recovered, identified, their relatives informed and more bodies searched for. The survivors must be distributed in solidarity in the EU.
  • We advocate that safe escape routes are the best way to prevent deaths and therefore call for humanitarian corridors.

Here you can find the complete text on german and english.

EN