European Union External Action

Belarus: Speech on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP Plenary

Strasbourg, 05/10/2021 - 14:18, UNIQUE ID: 211005_27
HR/VP speeches

Delivered by Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson

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Thank you Mr President, dear Members of the European Parliament,

On behalf of the High Representative/Vice-President Borrell and myself, let me thank this Parliament for your relentless efforts to support the people of Belarus and for your support of our work. The European Union remains united in the face of the brutal repression and the continuing provocations by the Lukashenko regime and in support of the Belarusian people. 

Last time Belarus was addressed in this European Parliament plenary was on the 8th of June, after the Lukashenko regime forced a Ryanair flight between two European Union capitals to land in order to arrest a journalist and his companion. Less than two weeks later, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted a robust package of sanctions against 78 individuals, 8 entities and 7 sectors of the economy.

One year after the fraudulent elections, the situation in Belarus remains dire. The Lukashenko regime continues its systematic effort to silence all remaining independent voices in the country: independent press, human rights defenders and civil society at large. Prominent representatives of the opposition to Lukashenko have been condemned to long prison sentences in political trials conducted behind closed doors. There are now more than 700 political prisoners in the country, a number that continues to increase.  

The oppression and persecution of the Belarusian people is utterly unacceptable. So what are we doing to respond to Lukashenko? From the very outset, the European Union provided a package of emergency assistance to the victims of repression and state violence and to independent media. And we supported the legitimate quest of the Belarusian people for rule of law and free and fair elections.

We continue to work for justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators. We continue to raise the human rights situation in all relevant international fora, leading international reactions against Lukashenko's brutal and illegal actions. 

We also want to send a message of hope and the assurance of our continued support to the people of Belarus. Therefore, we have published a plan for a €3 billion economic and investment package, in support of a democratic Belarus, that we will activate if, and when, the country changes its current course. 

The state-run instrumentalisation of migrants is another worrying example of Lukashenko’s blatant disregard of international norms. People and air routes are being ‘sourced’ by the regime and imported to Belarus. This year we have seen already more than 6,000 irregular arrivals coming across the Belarus – European Union border, compared to barely 150 last year. People originally from Iraq, but also from Congo, Cameroon and Syria. 

Belarus is not on any known migration route from these countries. Belarus is not a country under migratory pressure. People normally seek asylum from Belarus, not in Belarus. The regime is using human beings in an unprecedented way, to put pressure on the European Union and making a lot of money as well. 

People come in trips organised by state tourist company Centrkurort, stay in state-approved hotels and pay deposits of many thousand dollars, which they never get back. They lure people to Minsk, who are then transported towards the border in unmarked minivans, by men in unmarked uniforms.

Lukashenko’s desperation is evidence that sanctions are hurting. Each day reinforces the impression that these are frantic steps from a regime that can see the tide of history turning. His goal is to destabilise the European Union, but he has gravely miscalculated. Our response has been one of unity and solidarity and action.  A response that has been noted both by global partners and our allies and in Minsk. 

Our relentless outreach to partners is working. We are observing a sharp drop in irregular arrivals from Belarus in recent weeks. The High Representative/Vice President Borrell has been key in persuading Iraq to stop all flights from Baghdad to Minsk. And now we are reaching out to other countries of origin in Africa, whose citizens are being misled and victimised by Lukashenko.

We must be firm against Lukashenko and we must be clear with partner countries. One predictable element is that the weather will take a turn for the worse. People should not put themselves at risk. 

In direct response to these unprecedented actions, the Action Plan against migrant smuggling the Commission presented last week, calls this new and serious development by its name: “state sponsored migrant smuggling”. And we have proposed to the Council to partially suspend the Visa Facilitation Agreement for government officials from Belarus, while keeping the benefits of visa facilitation for the people of Belarus.

The European Union has shown full solidarity with our Member States. I visited Lithuania in August. We activated our agencies, emergency assistance and the Union Civil Protection Mechanism. Lithuanian authorities have worked very well with European partners. I thank them for their transparency and their European approach.

Last week I visited Poland, where I discussed the provocations at the border with Interior Minister [Mariusz] Kaminski and the recent tragic deaths at the borders. I learnt a lot about the situation and my main message is and was “we must protect our shared borders with shared European Union resources based on shared values”.

We must stand firm and united towards Lukashenko and we must do it in a way that shows that we, the European Union, are based on other values, on the Rule of Law and in full respect of the fundamental rights. We must protect our borders and our values. 

We agreed, in Warsaw last week, that a delegation from my services – arriving tomorrow - will visit Poland to continue discussions.

Dear Members,

Let me conclude by stressing that countering disinformation from the Lukashenko regime remains key. We need to keep strengthening communication and awareness-raising efforts in parallel to our support to the Belarusian democratic forces.

The European Union stands by the Belarusian people now, and we will do so in the future. 

Thank you for your attention.

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Closing remarks

Thank you Mr President, Honourable Members,

Thank you very much for this debate, thank you for your strong commitment and clear solidarity with the Belarusian people and with the more than 700 political prisoners.

It is necessary that we stand firm and united towards Lukashenko. We must react in solidarity against the instrumentalisation of migrants transported to the European Union borders under false pretences.

The European Union must be united and not show weakness in face of the brutal repression and the continuing provocations by the Lukashenko regime.

And we must show that we are not Belarus. We are not Lukashenko. We are the European Union. We are about democracy, not autocracy. We are about transparency, not secrecy. We are about humanity, not brutality. We must stand firm and united in protecting our external borders and our values, respecting fundamental rights and human dignity.

The European Union is and should continue to be at the forefront of the international reactions towards Lukashenko's brutal and illegal actions.

One year since the fraudulent elections, the world has seen the incredible courage and unity of Belarusian people in claiming their fundamental rights and freedoms. The world has also seen the brutal and irresponsible actions by Lukashenko and his regime. We have seen enough to make conclusions.

There is no way back to business as usual; there is no other way than ensuring accountability for the crimes committed.

We stand ready to adopt further measures in response to unacceptable actions of the regime. In face of the brutal repression against its own citizens and the provocations by the Lukashenko regime, the European Union is firmly united and continues its support to a free and democratic Belarus.

And I know, dear Members, that I can count on you on this.

Thank you.

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