This has been the week when the disgraceful exploitation of migrants by the Lukashenko regime became a world concern.

The situation at the Belarus  and EU external border shifted in perception from a migration issue to geo-political one.

This shift is also hopefully the point  where we move from mounting crisis to the beginning of a resolution.

At the core of the week was EU solidarity, between Member States and with allies. 

Whether it was the statement by western countries at the UN Security Council, the German Chancellor’s requests to the President of Russia to call Lukashenko to heel, or the discussion in the Oval Office between Commission President von der Leyen and US President Biden.

After the statement by President von der Leyen on 8 November, diplomatic efforts intensified. 

Notably Vice-President Schinas’ visits to the UAE, and Lebanon, and outreach to airline CEOs across the region.   

The reaction of the airlines has been positive. They are now focused on preventing the smuggling of people to the border region in Belarus.

Turkish Airlines and Iraqi Airlines have been particularly accommodating.

Arab Air Carriers Organisation and IATA have also helped coordinate.

Iraqi Airlines has confirmed that it will not resume flights to Minsk and Turkish Airlines will also suspend sales of one-way tickets to Minsk from Turkey.

The Turkish authorities will also prevent Belarus airline Belavia from using the Middle East network of Turkish Airlines, thus preventing it from flying migrants to Minsk via Istanbul.

The most effective way of ensuring this does not become a long term crisis is by stopping new arrivals into Minsk Airport.

The European Commission is working intensively on sanctions, including blacklisting, against airlines.

Cham Wings airline has just announced (13 November)  suspension of flights from Syria to Minsk.

The proactive attitude from airlines across the region reflects the collective influence of the EU. 

Working together with partners sends a clear signal to the Lukashenko regime.

EU Foreign Ministers will underline this collective force on Monday (15 November) when new sanction details are announced. 

Also on Monday I will travel to Egypt to meet with Government representatives ahead of Tuesday’s high-level migration dialogue, to brief on latest developments.

Such diplomatic successes cuts off the supply of people who risk being exploited and even put in harms way.

But in parallel there is still the fixed number of people at the Belarus border. 

Recent reports this weekend (13-14 November) of violent crossings, and even cutting of fences by Belarus border guards reflect the gravity of the situation.

Next week, I will meet the Director General of the International Organization for Migration, António Vitorino, having already had detailed discussions with UNHCR Grandi this week.

That the IOM and the UNHCR were granted access on 11 November to the crossing point in Belarus where about 2,000 migrants have been staying since 8 November, is essential.

And my understanding is that the Polish Authorities are assessing allowing media into the emergency zone, with due respect for their safety.

Our European diplomatic outreach, our collective resolve, our humanitarian concerns and standards and now our levels of transparency are clear and consistent.

There is a sharp relief between Lukashenko aggression and EU focus on resolution.

As the numbers of arrivals slows, and hopefully stops, the focus will return to the set number of people stranded in the Belarus Polish forests. 

The monstrous tactics of ‘Europe’s last dictator’ will be clear for the world to see.

As the weather worsens, more and more migrants wish to return to their countries through Minsk airport. That they are being forcibly detained by the regime is unconscionable.

The events of this week have shown that the European Union is a force that can face down threats and tactics to destabilise, that it has the backing of the global community and continues to apply standards that are the envy of the world.

#TimetoDeliverMigrationEU 

This blog outlines the benefits of the proposals on migration tabled by the European Commission on 23 September 2020. For more detail on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum see below.

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For More information

New Pact on Migration and Asylum | European Commission (europa.eu)

Resettlement recommendation

Commissioner Johansson’s blog: The situation at the EU-Belarus border in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland – an update

Commissioner Johansson’s speech at the High Level Forum on Resettlement, 9 July 2021

Commissioner Johansson’s blog: More legal pathways to the EU

DG Migration and Home Affairs website: Resettlement and other pathways to protection

 

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