European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas has expressed his satisfaction with the outcomes achieved on the migrant crisis situation at the EU border with Belarus, stressing that “when we act together as team Europe, we are unstoppable.”
Schinas, who was addressing the plenary of the European Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, outlined the results concerted efforts by the EU have had so far, including the return of a number of migrants to Iraq, the granting access of humanitarian organisations to at least one camp near the border and the shutting down of transit routes towards Minsk.
“The first lesson learnt is that when we act together as team Europe we are unstoppable,” he stressed.
“Nobody can stop the combined power of immediate reaction when we act as institutions, member states together with our international friends and partners,” he added.
The second lesson, according to the European Commission Vice President is that “we are much more effective in these circumstances when we deploy tools and instruments grounded in EU law.”
“Diplomatic demarches, protocols, papers flying around do not serve the purpose of defending the EU in extraordinary times,” he said.
“If we need, want and aspire to be a geopolitical Commission, we need to work together with the full force of EU law and EU instruments this is when we matter in this troubled, unsafe and obscure world,” he pointed out.
Referring to the situation at hand he said that “the shocking images of these thousands of desperate people do not do justice to our values.”
Speaking of the actions of Belarus, Schinas said that “we have to call a spade a spade and see these actions for what they are: a determined attempt to create a continuing and protracted crisis, as part of a broader co-ordinated effort to destabilise the EU, testing our unity and resolve.”
“This is not a migration crisis. This is not a migration issue: This is a major security threat,” he added.
He spoke of the mobilisation of €700,000 in humanitarian funding from the EU budget in order to support partners in providing assistance to vulnerable people stranded at the border and inside the country and expressed the Commission’s satisfaction that the IOM and the UNHCR were granted access to a makeshift camp on the Belarusian side of the border to deliver emergency aid.
"But I cannot stress enough how important it is to ensure sustained access for humanitarian actors – on both sides of the border," he said and recalled that Belarus is bound by the Geneva Convention to provide protection to refugees.
Schinas also spoke of the support the EU is offering the most affected member states through the civil protection mechanism and EU agencies such as Frontex, EASO and Europol and through the mobilisation of funds.
He further announced “our forthcoming proposals to reform the Schengen Borders Code will strengthen the EU’s legal framework to give better tools to Member States to protect the external borders in situations of extreme instrumentalisation.”
He also referred to the sanctions against Belarus and diplomatic efforts by head of European Diplomacy Josep Borrell, Commissioner Ylva Johansson and himself in recent days to stop the inflow of immigrants including his own visits to Iraq, Lebanon, the UAE and Turkey and forthcoming one in Uzbekistan.
As a result of these visits “transit routes being used by smugglers to bring migrants to the Belarusian border are being shut down one by one,” he noted.
He also referred to the decision yesterday by the Commission to propose a new legal framework, which to adopt targeted measures against transport operators of any mode of transport, that knowingly or unknowingly engage in or facilitate smuggling or trafficking in people into the EU.