And over the past week, we saw the first very real signs of de-escalation.
Lukashenko has gambled, and lost – at least, for the moment. Betting on EU sensitivities about migration, he gravely miscalculated.
Hoping to sow disunity, he instead found a Europe united.
New EU sanctions will target anyone who supports the Belarusian regime’s state sponsored migrant smuggling.
Diplomatic efforts and talks with airlines are having effect.
Iraq has stopped flights to Minsk. ChamWings airline halted flights from Damascus. Several countries (Lebanon/Uzbekistan) and airlines (Turkish Airlines, FlyDubai and Belavia) stop nationals at risk from travelling to Minsk – including citizens of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Lebanon and Libya.
Makeshift camps in the cold border zone are starting to empty.
On Thursday, a first flight of more than 400 cheated and exhausted Iraqi citizens landed from Minsk in Baghdad.
This is the result of Europeanised migration policy in action.
Which proves that the principles underpinning the New Pact on Migration and Asylum work. Namely that border protection alone is not enough to reduce irregular migration. But that we need concerted cooperation by all relevant actors – Member States and all European institutions and agencies. Mobilising private companies – airlines. And especially partner countries outside the European Union. Which is central to the Pact.
So it’ s no wonder many Member States have told me this crisis shows the EU urgently needs to agree on the Pact.
The crisis is subsiding but not yet over.
With that return flight we also heard the eye-witness accounts of suffering and abuse. Accounts of freezing cold weather, lack of food and beatings. And most horrifying, the news a one year old baby died.
There are still people in the forest. And thousands of misled migrants in the country. Over 7000 migrants entered through Lithuania, Latvia and Poland from Belarus in the last months. They need assistance, an individual asylum process. And either granted asylum or returned, as the case may be.
In words at least, Lukashenko remains defiant.
We can only stop the suffering by stopping Lukashenko.
Lukashenko is like one of those unlicensed travel agents. Misleading people with false promises. Who only find out after paying thousands of euros that they have been deceived and cheated.
In this case the promise is illegal access to the European Union. And the reality death in the forest.
To protect people and protect our borders, we must shut down Lukashenko’s illegal operation.
And we need an agreement on the Pact.
Next week, the European Parliament will discuss Belarus.
What’s also on the Plenary agenda is a report on legal migration. Irregular migration is a problem and we must manage it together.
Legal migration is not a problem.
Before covid, around 140,000 people came to Europe in irregular ways in one year.
But this is the exception. Most migration is regular migration. Every year Member States issue around 3 million resident permits. For work, study, and family reunification. People who come to Europe without dangerous journeys. There are no headlines. No dramas.
These are people who contribute to our societies. Without migration our Union should shrink by half a million people per year.
According to the OECD, migrants contribute more in taxes and contributions than governments spend on their social protection, health and education. In an ideal world this would be the real headline on migration.
Migrants are not “them”. They are part of “us”.
Without migrants, we would not have been able to fight the pandemic. With them, Europe was a world leader. And we would not be able to recover from the pandemic. With them we turned EU values into EU action.
Migrant doctors and nurses fight for people’s lives in hospitals, and intensive care. Or work in the front lines providing essential services. Providing personal care. Preparing food. Working in supermarkets or in fields and farms. Building houses, or cleaning them. Transporting people and goods.
According to the International Labour Organisation Italy relies on about 370 000 foreign seasonal workers, while 80 per cent of the seasonal workforce force in French agriculture is foreign. Reportedly, 50 to 80 per cent of Germany’s meat processing workforce is migrant labour.
And for Europe to be competitive, we need to be attractive.
Because Europe is losing the global competition for talent. Highly educated migrants prefer North America, Australia and New Zealand to Europe.
Seven out of ten EU companies report difficulties in recruiting talent.
The recent political agreement on the European Blue Card will help to attract highly skilled talent from outside the EU. With more flexible admission conditions, enhanced rights and the possibility to move and work more easily between EU Member States.
Europe doesn’t only need engineers, software programmers and web developers.
Twenty-one EU Member States report a shortage in nurses.
Europe also needs cooks, plumbers, truck drivers, welders, bricklayers, electricians, carpenters.
The Talent Partnerships launched in June aim to help people from third countries to work, train or study in Europe.
And next year we will put forward the 'Skills and Talent package'. This includes:
- Improving the rights of long-term residents and their ability to move between EU countries.
- Simplifying the admission of third country workers and protecting them from exploitation
- And early next year: starting work towards putting in place a future EU talent pool, an EU-wide platform for international recruitment to help match the skills of migrant workers with the needs of the EU employers.
This year’s headlines have been about how a broken regime tricked migrants into trying to come to the EU the wrong way.
Next year’s headlines need to be about the fact that, overall, the contribution of migration to the European economy and to European society is one of the EU’s quietest success stories.
Legal migration is not just Europe’s future, it is Europe’s present. The desperation of Lukashenko’s regime will not change this. The viable route to Europe is through a legally paved pathway, not an irregular forest trail.
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.
For More information
Commissioner Johansson’s blog: More legal pathways to the EU
DG Migration and Home Affairs website: Resettlement and other pathways to protection