EU nations push for stronger rules to detain asylum seekers after hybrid attack launched by Belarus

Hardline member states are pressing Brussels to water down protections for asylum seekers, allowing them to detain migrants for five months to avert future border crises.

Austria and Poland are leading the push for the European Commission to introduce further draconian measures under its “Crisis Regulation” to deter illegal immigrants crossing into the bloc.

Vienna believes the rules need tightening to deter future “hybrid attacks” by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who has been accused of sending tens of thousands of migrants to the border with Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

“In the present situation, on the Polish-Belarusian section of the state border, we have a similar situation, where access is severely limited or prevented,” Poland said in an internal EU document, first reported by the EU Observer website.

“Austria could also imagine extending the time limit up to 20 weeks as foreseen in the ‘Crisis Regulation’.”

MIgrants have been detained in processing centres

Credit: MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS

Earlier this month, the Commission agreed to allow Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to detain people for 16 weeks in processing centres on their frontier with Belarus as part of new temporary measures initially approved for six months.

Brussels’ proposals for the remaining 24 EU member states allow them to first screen people at the border over a maximum of five days.

Under the plans, migrants would then be sent home or sent into a 12-week asylum procedure, up from the current maximum of four weeks. Children under the age of 12 would be exempted.

In a separate document, officials from Vienna stressed the new EU-wide asylum rules need tightening because of the risk of future “hybrid attacks on European borders”.

It calls for "accelerated border procedures with few exceptions" and "effective restriction of movement” to deter migrants from crossing into the EU.

This year, Polish border guards have prevented more than 35,000 attempts to illegally cross the Polish-Belarusian border, which is 400 times more than last year

Credit: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu

Romania has also backed the Austrian plan. “We are still of the opinion that the detention of applicants should be given as an obligation and not as an option,” its officials said in the same document.

But it has also drawn its critics. Bulgaria accused supporters of attempting to establish “a quasi-detention regime”.

Austria also wants to “significantly raise the recognition rate”, which would force more migrants into the draconian asylum centres.

Under the Commission proposals, any would-be asylum-seeker whose nationality has a 20 per cent recognition rate or below for asylum would be required to enter the border procedure. Vienna is calling for at least 40 per cent.

Slovakia backs the Austrian model, and Hungary has called for an even higher number that would see almost half of asylum seekers forced into detention centres.

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