Thursday, 18 November 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
2. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the action taken to address the humanitarian crisis developing on the Belarus-Poland and Belarus-Lithuania borders in particular to bring relief to the thousands of migrants stuck in makeshift camps on the borders of the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56502/21]
Will the Minister set out the action he and his EU colleagues have taken to date, and, more importantly, will take, to address the growing humanitarian crisis on the border of the EU and Belarus where, as everybody will be aware, thousands of men, women and children are trapped in dreadful conditions?
Ireland condemns the regime of Alexander Lukashenko for its exploitation of migrants for political purposes.
At the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, EU foreign ministers discussed the escalation in the crisis along the EU's borders with Belarus. We agreed to broaden the listings criteria for sanctions on the Belarusian regime.
This broader listing will target individuals and entities organising or contributing to activities by the Lukashenko regime that facilitate illegal crossing of the EU's external borders.
Ireland also supports EU outreach to countries of origin to stem the flow of migrants to Belarus, by communicating the considerable risks and dangers associated with facilitating irregular migration.
I am hopeful that in the coming weeks the EU's continuing engagement will result in a diminishing flow of migrants to Belarus, which is an organised flow by the Belarusian regime.
While the current humanitarian crisis has been orchestrated by the Belarusian regime, it is important that member states respect and uphold the right to international protection in line with obligations under the Geneva Conventions. Ireland has expressed its support for the deployment of experts from Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, to the border region. I also believe that international organisations, aid workers and independent monitors and journalists should be allowed to access both sides of the border.
Ireland has repeatedly demonstrated our solidarity with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, and with those trapped at the border. Just three weeks ago, the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, visited the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, accompanied by members of the Lithuanian Government. As part of that visit, he viewed some migrant camps that have been established by the Lithuanian Government, met with the Lithuanian border guards and also with the Lithuanian Red Cross, which, this year, has received a contribution of €100,000 from Irish Aid to help provide relief to the migrants.
What is happening here is orchestrated. Migrants in a vulnerable position are being deliberately shipped and bused to the borders of the EU in an extremely cynical and dangerous way. People have lost their lives. The response from the EU has to be twofold.
I thank the Minister for his reply. It is well and good to denounce the dreadful Lukashenko regime in Belarus. He is clearly a tyrant with no democratic legitimacy, but the problem is for the thousands of people who are now, as one migrant described, a football being kicked between Lukashenko and the border protectors of the EU.
The Minister is right to increase the pressure and sanctions against the Belarus regime and Lukashenko, in particular. I understand the outreach to countries of origin to diminish the flow, including ensuring that airlines are not used. However, for the thousands of people who are right now caught in that sandwich, who are facing hunger and the lack of any protection in a north European winter, what specifically is the policy of the EU towards them now?
We should not describe what is happening now as a situation where migrants are being pushed between Belarus and European borders. The EU is not pushing anybody nor are member states. They are trying to protect their borders from uncontrolled migration. There were 18,000 migrants on the border with Poland at the start of the week. It looks as though some may have been shipped elsewhere now. We do not know where. Human rights organisations are not being allowed to access migrants on the Belarusian side of the border.
I accept that the EU, of course, has a responsibility to ensure the welfare of migrants is protected but the migrants are not on the EU side of the border fence; they are on the Belarusian side and they are being brought there and organised by people in a Belarusian military uniform. We have seen the videos of that. My view, as I have said at the Foreign Affairs Council, is that we should involve UN organisations, and insist on access to meet, interview and support migrants on the Belarusian side of the border so that we can give them the supports that they need.
It is perfectly understandable. The EU did not bring those people there. However it is disingenuous for the Minister to say that they are on the Belarusian side. They are standing looking at coils of barbed wire, yards away from the European Union. The Union cannot say that they are not ours and we have no responsibility there.
I quoted one of the Iraqi migrants. He said that he felt like a football. His opinion is more valid than the Minister's or mine in how he feels in that condition. Of course the Lukashenko regime has to be challenged on every level. However, I have seen pictures of the Polish authorities denying access to its border to do a humanitarian assessment. What specifically is the intention of the EU in respect of these people? Is it to allow them some form of processing as migrants or is it simply the expectation that they will all be sent back to Iraq from whence they came?
It is very difficult to get a handle on the numbers as they change all the time. The Belarusian side is effectively trying to weaponise incredibly vulnerable people, promising them entry to the EU, bringing them from countries such as Syria and Iraq and bussing them to the border. Then those unfortunate migrants find that they are trapped. That is what is happening. We need to first, try to stop it, otherwise we will have 18,000 more next week. Let us imagine if we had 18,000 people waiting to come into Ireland with no plan or management entity to deal with them.
The EU's responsibility is to try to balance the solidarity that we have with member states that are under huge pressure with its international obligations to the welfare of migrants. What that means is trying to get access for international organisations, which can assist and support migrants. That is why we have supported the Lithuanian Red Cross financially to try to provide welfare supports to migrants in vulnerable situations and will continue to do that. However, as long as people are being cynically bussed across the border for political reasons, it is difficult to do that.