Thursday, 18 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
The political crisis in Belarus continues to pose significant challenges for the European Union. It is apparently engineering a migration crisis on its border with Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. The Belarusian leader, Lukashenko, appears to want to force the EU to negotiate with him and his country to ease sanctions against them. That would apparently give credibility to his status despite many European leaders talking about his illegitimacy. Will the Minister elaborate on the questions posed and the response from the European Union?
There has been a steep deterioration in the situation in Belarus since Alexander Lukashenko’s fraudulent re-election as president in August 2020. Tens of thousands of Belarusians protested in response, calling for fair elections, justice and a better future. This movement has been suppressed through state-sponsored violence, the use of arbitrary detention, and criminalisation of opposition activities, including protests. According to the Belarusian human rights group, Viasna, more than 850 political prisoners have been detained. Detainees have been tortured, including through use of sexual violence, according to the UN special rapporteur, UNSR. Reports cited by the UNSR claim that detainees have frequently been denied food, water, and access to a lawyer. Journalists have been detained, deported or had credentials removed. Access to the Internet has been restricted and some websites blocked.
I have been vocal about the need for the democratic will of the Belarusian people to be respected.
The Lukashenko regime should engage in a national dialogue leading to early elections that are free, fair and internationally monitored.
Members of the Irish Government have met with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and expressed Ireland’s support for the work of the opposition Co-ordination Council. Ireland has raised the plight of the Belarusian people at the UN Human Rights Council and the Security Council. We called for the implementation of a report by the OSCE expert investigator, Wolfgang Benedek, supported a mandated extension for the UN OHCHR to investigate human rights violations in Belarus and provided funding to projects to protect media freedom in Belarus.
As set out in my earlier response to Deputy Howlin, on Monday, EU Foreign Ministers discussed the escalation of the migrant crisis and broadened the listings criteria for sanctions. These will target individuals and entities organising or contributing to activities by the Lukashenko regime that facilitate illegal crossing of the EU's external borders.
I thank the Minister. I would welcome his opinions and impressions of the impact the Polish migration crisis is having on exacerbating the issues in regard to migration at the Belarusian borders. As we know, the Polish Government is talking tough in regard to its stance on migration. It not engaging with the tools available within the EU creates the type of stand-off that means a similar case in terms of the Belarusian issue in regard to its borders. What potential is there to address this issue? I note the Minister mentioned the UN Security Council and the statements that have been made. What workings can be initiated to ensure that progress might be forthcoming?
Deputy Howlin raised this issue earlier. We have a dual responsibility to show solidarity with Poland, but also with Lithuania and Latvia which have been targeted. We also have an international and moral obligation to ensure that the welfare of migrants is protected, as it should be under international law. That is difficult to do when migrants are being effectively bussed in a tactical way to try to create as much tension as possible, which essentially is what is happening here. Migrants are being flown from parts of the world such as Syria and Iraq into Minsk and then bussed to border areas where that process can create tension. Unfortunately, migrants are the victims of that. On Monday, I stated that the more we can internationalise this problem and have independent observers better explaining what is happening and NGOs to support migrants, the better. We also have to recognise the pressure that EU countries are under in the context of 15,000 to 20,000 migrants being bussed to a border.
I acknowledge the Minister's commitment and efforts to ensure that this is internationalised to such an extent that every help and assistance is given in the first instance to those impacted who, as rightly identified by the Minister, are the migrants. We must also ensure that behind that wall there are efforts to resolve this issue with a view to ensuring the Belarusian authorities do not gain the sort of credibility they feel they deserve, especially considering what the Minister alluded to in his initial response.
The tragic tactic here, in terms of the images of migrants on our borders not being able to get in, is to try to make the EU look bad. It is an incredibly cynical tactic. A number of migrants have died in these circumstances. This is an awful situation. From an EU perspective, we have to support EU member states in the challenges that have been effectively foisted on them by the Belarusian regime. As I said earlier, we also have to internationalise the issue. We need to ensure that the international media has access to the areas where migrants are and that there is assistance and support for migrants and their families in what is an extremely difficult situation. Ultimately, we have to try to stop this too. If we allow a precedent to be set, whereby third countries that have a quarrel with the EU can essentially use migrants in this way, that is totally unacceptable as well.