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EU proposes allowing Belarus border nations to detain asylum seekers for 16 weeks

EU proposes allowing Belarus border nations to detain asylum seekers for 16 weeks
The European Union on Wednesday proposed allowing Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to detain asylum seekers for up to 16 weeks in order to stem a flow of migrants from neighboring Belarus. File Photo by EPA-EFE/STR

Dec. 1 (UPI) -- The European Union on Wednesday proposed allowing three countries bordering Belarus to extend processing times for people seeking asylum.

Under the proposal, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland would be permitted to extend the registration period for asylum applications to four weeks, up from the current period of three to 10 days, while also allowing people to be held in special asylum processing centers for up to 16 weeks instead of four.

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"Today, to protect our borders and to protect people, we are giving flexibility and support to Member States to manage this emergency situation, without compromising on human rights," said Ylva Johansson, commissioner for Home Affairs.

The process would apply to the three nations for only sixth months if granted approval by all EU member states.

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The measures come as Poland and the European Union have accused Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko of luring vulnerable people from the Middle East to Belarus and then bussing them to the EU border, leading to the death of a young Syrian last month.

Margaritis Schinas, EU vice president for Promoting our European Way of Life, called the method a "hybrid attack directed at our Union."

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"Collectively, the EU made clear that attempts to undermine our Union will only solidify our solidarity with one another," she said.

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Rights groups on Wednesday criticized the emergency measures with Eve Geddie, Amnesty International's Europe director, saying the bloc was allowing the three countries "to throw out the rulebook due to the presence of a few thousand people at its border.

Erin McKay of Oxfam called on EU leaders to refrain from making the process more difficult for asylum seekers.

"Stopping, detaining and criminalizing people trying to find safety in Europe breaks international and European asylum law," McKay said. "Supporting the detention of migrants at EU borders puts politics over people's lives."

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