Von der Leyen on Belarus: The EU has the will, the unity and the resolve to face this crisis

(Source: European Commission)

Today in the European Parliament, President von der Leyen spoke about the evolving situation at the EU’s border with Belarus and the measures the Commission has taken to tackle this emergency.

She said the situation was a cruel form of hybrid threat with a state-sponsored instrumentalisation of people for political ends. “This is not a migration crisis. This is the attempt of an authoritarian regime to try to destabilise its democratic neighbours,” she said, underlining Europe’s solidarity with Lithuania, Poland and Latvia on this issue.

President von der Leyen briefed the Members of the Parliament of all the measures Commission has been taking to address this situation – humanitarian support, diplomatic outreach to countries of origin, sanctions and protection of the border.

Concerning the humanitarian situation on the ground, President von der Leyen said the EU immediately got in touch with UN agencies, set up a contact group with them, and mobilised funding to support their efforts on the ground.

“We are in the process of coordinating our sanctions with the United States, Canada and the UK”, von der Leyen said. This was parallel to the diplomatic outreach done by Members of the College, Vice-President Schinas, HR/VP Borrell and Commissioner Johansson.

“We already see the impact on the ground. Several airlines and civil aviation authorities have stopped unwarranted travel to Belarus. Furthermore, Iraq has begun repatriating nationals stranded in Belarus. We  very much welcome this very good cooperation with Iraq. But more migrants are trapped and we will work with the UN agencies to facilitate their return home. We will mobilise up to EUR 3.5 million to support voluntary returns from Belarus”, she announced.

President von der Leyen also announced that the Commission would propose blacklisting of transport operators involved in facilitating the smuggling or trafficking of people.

Speaking of the support for border management, President von der Leyen said that the Commission decided to triple the funds currently earmarked for Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. “This package of security measures is designed to tackle the current emergency, and to underline our solidarity with the Member States on the front line”, she explained.

“Member States facing such a hybrid attack must be able to respond effectively to the emergency situation they face. At the same time, they need to fully respect fundamental rights and international obligations”, she said and called for finding a way to reconcile the two aspects. “The aim is to support Member States to set up the right processes, to manage irregular arrivals in a swift and orderly way, in line with fundamental rights.”

In conclusion, President von der Leyen reaffirmed the EU’s commitment and capacity to address this crisis. “The European Union has the will, the unity and the resolve to face this and future crises.”

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