Tuesday 4 January 2022

The EU must not become a lawless zone – appeal of European academics



For a brief moment, the situation at the Polish-Belarusian border has attracted public attention. The images of thousands of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, who were lured by the Belarussian President Lukashenko and assembled on the Belarusian side of the border in inhumane conditions, sparked outrage among European audiences. Geopolitical analyses have been put forward, political and repressive responses have been formulated (sanctions, border militarization).


But today, the humanitarian drama continues on both sides of the border, and no adequate response has been found. Since September 2021, the Polish government declared an emergency zone along its border with Belarus. Migrants who enter the EU by crossing the Polish-Belarusian border have found themselves in a dangerous militarized area to which doctors, journalists, and representatives of NGOs do not have access. In the Białowieża Forest, one of the last remaining old-growth forests in Europe, men, women, and children are dying of hypothermia, thirst, hunger, and lack of access to lifesaving medical aid. 


Polish border guards systematically ignore their requests for asylum and return them to the Belarusian side of the border. The practice of refoulement is prohibited even in times of crisis by the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees (article 33), the European Convention on Human Rights (art. 3) and its Protocol 4 (art. 4), as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (articles 18 and 19), all of which the European Union and its Member States have a duty to respect. 


Forced by Belarusian soldiers to cross the border, some families have been sent back more than ten times or separated, which has exacerbated the intolerable human dramas taking place in the border areas. On the 19th November 2021, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, called for access to humanitarian aid, including international assistance, and reiterated the urgency of stopping the systematic violation of human rights in the border areas. NGOs such as Grupa Granica or Human Rights Watch have published thorough reports on these violations. The MEP Pietro Bartolo, otherwise known as Lampedusa’s “migrant doctor”, reported "massive violations of human rights, of the rule of law, of conventions", "an atmosphere of terror", and "a humanitarian disaster". 


On December 1st, 2021, The European Commission responded by proposing (based on Article 78 § 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) that the Council adopt emergency measures to enable the EU Member States concerned to manage the crisis. However, instead of reaffirming the fundamental nature of the right to apply for asylum, the proposal effectively authorises the Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian authorities to apply the accelerated border procedure to all asylum applications. It thus makes it less likely that the asylum requests of these populations in dire need of protection will be considered and supports the legalisation of mass expulsions. Yet, the events we are witnessing are not a "migration crisis". The few thousand people at the border are a small group whose presence has been politically instrumentalised and dramatised. Although this situation poses no proven "emergency", the creation of the no-go zone in Poland threatens the daily life and economic subsistence of tens of thousands of locals who reside in the border area. 


The Commission’s proposal is a threat to all EU citizens. Supporting such illegal measures empowers authoritarian governments to establish lawless zones in Europe. The European Union, which was founded on the rule of law and on the defence of fundamental rights, simply cannot compromise with these principles. 


The EU’s very future is playing out today in the Białowieża Forest. We call on the Council of the European Union to renounce the legalisation of these derogations from treaties that require Member States of the EU to protect human rights. We call on the European Union to lead with a humane response to the humanitarian crisis that is playing out on the borders with Belarus, and for immediate actions to be taken to protect vulnerable individuals and to respect the right of asylum.


This is not a question of giving lessons about morals to any particular country. A number of EU countries can be criticised for their failings in respecting fundamental rights. Countries do have a right to control their borders. But in the face of illegal and inhumane practices that persist and increasingly become institutionalised, it is urgent to restate the law’s universal and fundamental rules. We, citizens of the EU, must affirm and defend these rights because, in a democracy, only the law can protect us against arbitrary decisions.



First signatories


Joana Abrisketa (Titular de Derecho Internacional Público, University of Deusto)

Michel Agier (Directeur d'études, EHESS)

Anca Ailincai (Professeure, Université Grenoble Alpes)

Denis Alland (Professeur, Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris 2)

Nuria Arenas (Associate Professor of Internacional Law, University of Huelva)

Idil Atak (Associate Professor, Ryerson University, Toronto)

Géraldine Bachoue (Associate Professor, Université de Pau et des pays de l'Adour)

Ségolène Barbou des Places (Professeure, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Jan Barcz (Professor, Kozminski University, Warsaw)

Pavel Barša (Professor, Charles University, Prague)

Paul Bauer (Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University, Prague)

Annette Becker (Professor em., Université Paris Nanterre)

Valentin Behr (Researcher, Institut d'études avancées de Paris)

Mounia Bennani-Chraïbi (Professeure ordinaire, Université de Lausanne)

Marcel Berlinghoff (Researcher, Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS), Osnabruck University

Annett Bochmann (Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin, Universität Siegen)

Yasmine Bouagga (Senior researcher, CNRS)

Stefanie Börner (Professor, Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg)

Laurence Burgorgue-Larsen (Professeure, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Sebastian Büttner (Assistant Professor, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Tiziana Caponio (Associate Professor, University of Turin)

Jean-Yves Carlier (Professeur, Université Louvain La Neuve)

Aurore Chaigneau (Professor, Université Paris Nanterre)

Isabelle Chort (Professeure, Université de Pau et des pays de l'Adour)

Dimitris Christopoulos (Professor, Université Panteion d'Athènes).

François Crépeau (Professor, Université McGill)

Karolina Czerska-Shaw (Assistant Professor, Jagiellonian University)

Dorota Dakowska (Professeure, Sciences Po Aix)

Mathilde Darley (Senior researcher, CNRS)

Emilio De Capitani (Professeur, Department of Law at Queen Mary University of London)

Marion Detjen (Researcher, Bard College Berlin)

Laurent Dornel, (Associate Professor, Université de Pau et des pays de l'Adour)

Marie-Elizabeth Ducreux (Senior Researcher, EHESS)

Estelle d'Halluin (Maîtresse de conférences, Université de Nantes)

Pauline Endres de Oliveira (Research assistant, Justus Liebig University)

Anuscheh Farahat (Professor, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Julian Fernandez (Professor, Université Paris 2)

Kamila Fiałkowska (Researcher, Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw)

Thibaut Fleury Graff (Professeur, Université Paris-Saclay)

Karolina Follis (Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University)

Naika Foroutan (Professor, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Étienne François (Professeur ém., Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne et Université libre de Berlin)

Heidrun Friese (Professor, Chemnitz University of Technology)

Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen (Professor, University of Copenhagen)

Paula García Andrade (Professor, Comillas Pontifical University)

Lucyna Gebert (Professeure, Sapienza Università di Roma)

Petia Georgieva (Associate Professor, New Bulgarian University)

Mihai Dinu Gheorghiu (Professeur em., Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi)

Camille Goirand (Professeure, Université Sorbonne nouvelle)

Cristina Gortázar Rotaeche (Professor, International Law, Pontifical University Comillas)

Jan Gross (Professor of history emeritus, Princeton university)

Barbara Grabowska-Moroz (Researcher, Central European University, Budapest)

Paul Gradvohl (Professeur, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Łukasz Gruszczyński (Associate Professor, Koźmiński University, Warsaw)

Carolus Grütters (Researcher, Centre for Migration Law, Radboud University, Nijmegen)

Halina Grzymała-Moszczyńska (Professor, Uniwersytet Jagielloński)

Joanna Grzymała-Moszczyńska (Researcher, Uniwersytet Jagielloński)

Laetitia Guilloud-Colliat (Professor, Université de Grenoble)

Elspeth Guild (Professor, Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands, College of Europe)

Virginie Guiraudon (Directrice de recherche, Sciences Po Paris)

Gábor Halmai (Professor, European University Institute)

François Héran (Professeur, Collège de France)

Sabine Hess (Professor, Institute for Cultural Anthropology, University of Göttingen and director of the Center for Global Migration Studies)

Béatrice Hibou (Research Professor, CNRS)

Béatrice von Hirschhausen (Directrice de recherche, CNRS)

Christian Ingrao (Directeur de recherche, CNRS)

Yasemin Karakaşoğlu (Professor, University of Bremen, Member of Rat für Migration e.V.)

Niilo Kauppi (Directeur de Recherche CNRS, Université de Strasbourg)

Audrey Kichelewski (Associate Professor, Université de Strasbourg / IUF)

Marta Kindler (Assistant Professor, University of Warsaw)

Tomasz Kitliński (Researcher, Margherita von Brentano Zentrum, Freie Universitaet Berlin)

Witold Klaus (Professor, Institute of Law Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences)

Dimitry Kochenov (Professor, Central European University)

Jerzy Kranz (Professor, Kozminski University, Warsaw)

Ireneusz Krzemiński (Professor, University of Warsaw)

Katarzyna Kubin (Jun. Res., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)

Katarzyna Kubuj (Senior Researcher, Institut of Law Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences)

Lidia Kuzemska (PhD in Sociology, Lancaster University)

Pascale Laborier (Professor, Université Paris Nanterre)

Evelyne Lagrange (Professor, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Martine Leibovici (Associate Professor ém., Université de Paris)

Stephan Lessenich (Professor, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main/Institut für Sozialforschung

Danièle Lochak (Professeure ém., Université Paris Nanterre)

Kamil Łuczaj (Wyższa Szkoła Informatyki i Zarządzania, Rzeszów)

Benoît Majerus (Professor, Université du Luxembourg)

Izabella Main (Associate Professor, Université de Poznan)

Alexis Marie (Professeur, Université de Bordeaux)

Alfio Mastropaolo (Professor em., University of Turin)

Steffen Mau (Professor, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin)

Rostane Mehdi (Professeur, Sciences Po Aix)

Anne-Sophie Millet-Devalle (Professor, Université Côte d'Azur)

Georges Mink (Directeur de Recherche Émérite, ISP-CNRS)

Caroline Moine (Maîtresse de conférences, Université Paris-Saclay)

Małgorzata Molęda-Zdziech (Associate Professor, Warsaw School of Economics, SGH)

Tamás Molnár (Visiting lecturer, Corvinus University of Budapest)

Laura Montanari (Professor, Université d'Udine)

Janusz Mucha (Professor, University of Białystok)

Laure Neumayer (Professeure, Université de Picardie Jules-Verne) 

Dariusz Niedźwiedzki (Professor, Instytut Studiów Europejskich, Uniwersytet Jagielloński)

Józef Niżnik (Professor, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences)

Eeva Nykänen (Professor, University of Eastern Finland)

Claus Offe (Professor em., Humboldt Universisty and Hertie School, Berlin)

Michelle Pace (Professor, Roskilde University)

Francesco Palermo (Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law, University of Verona)

Etienne Pataut (Professeur, Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Laurent Pech (Professor, Middlesex University London)

Thomas Piketty (Professor, Paris School of Economics)

Sébastien Platon (Professor, Université de Bordeaux)

Jean-Yves Potel (Researcher ém. Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint Denis)

Swanie Potot (Senior researcher, CNRS)

Jenny Preunkert (Gastprofessorin, Universität Duisburg-Essen)

Dominika Pszczółkowska (Associate Professor, University of Warsaw)

Karine Rance (Associate Professor, Université Clermont Auvergne)

Thomas Ribémont (Associate Professor, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)

Cécile Robert (Professor, Sciences Po Lyon)

Sophie Robin-Olivier (Professeure, Ecole de droit de la Sorbonne, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Anja Röcke (Gastprofessorin, Humboldt Universität)

Tilmann Röder (Academic coordinator, Freie Universität Berlin)

Paolo Ruspini (Associate Professor, Roma Tre University)

Robert Rydzewski (Researcher, Centre for Migration Studies, Adam Mickiewicz University)

Philippe Rygiel (Senior professor, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon)

Guillaume Sacriste (Associate Professor, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Wojciech Sadurski (Professor, University of Sydney & Uniwersytet Warszawski)

Sylvie Sarolea (Professor, Université Catholique de Louvain)

Dana Schmalz (Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg/Berlin)

Camille Schmoll (Associate Professor, EHESS)

Gesine Schwan (Prof. em., former president of European University Viadrina)

Caterina Severino (Professor, Université de Toulon)

Michael Shafir (Professor ém., Université Babeș-Bolyai, Cluj-Napoca)

Angela Siebold (Researcher, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)

Despina Sinou (Associate Professor, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord)

Serge Slama (Professeur, Université Grenoble Alpes)

Lieneke Slingenberg (Associate professor Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Thomas Spijkerboer (Professor of Migration Law, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Justyna Struzik (Assistant Professor, Jagiellonian University)

David Szymczak (Professeur, Sciences Po Bordeaux)

Przemyslaw Tacik (Assistant Professor, Jagiellonian University)

Bérangère Taxil (Professor, Université d’Angers)

Romain Tinière (Professeur, Université Grenoble Alpes)

Anna Triandafyllidou (Professor, Ryerson University)

Elsa Tulmets (Europa Universität Viadrina)

Jan Váška (Assistant Professor, Charles University, Prague)

Antoine Vauchez (Directeur de recherche, CNRS)

Jakob Vogel (Professor, Sciences Po Paris / HU Berlin)

Izabela Wagner (Professor, Collegium Civitas / Institut Convergence Migration / EUI)

Adam Walaszek (Professor, Jagiellonian University)

Edith Wendt (Lecturer, Universität Heidelberg)

Catherine Wihtol de Wenden (Directrice de recherche, CNRS)

Aleksandra Winiarska (Assistant Professor, Uniwersytet Warszawski)

Frank Wolff (Privatdozent, IMIS, Universität Osnabrück)

Anna Wyrozumska (Professor, University of Lodz, Poland)

Frédéric Zalewski (Associate professor, Université Paris Nanterre)

Marjoleine Zieck (Professor of International Refugee Law, University of Amsterdam)



Photo credit: Kancelaria Premiera via Flickr – Creative Commons licence


  1. After failing to cross the border using paramilitary means with help from Belarus soldiers, would-be illegal immigrants have decided to return in large numbers to their homes in Iraq, where the situation has not improved. This makes a mockery of the term "refugee".
    Incidentally, I love the emotive reference to the Białowieza forest, which covers just part of the border area. Great hyberbole, guys!

    1. The Refugee Convention does not disqualify anyone from refugee status on the grounds of illegal entry. In fact it provides that, subject to certain conditions, refugees cannot be subject to penalties due to illegal entry. Returning to Iraq is not proof that people are not refugees, in the absence of a status determination process.

  2. In lifting visa restrictions simultaneously for dozens of 3rd World countries and openly touting itself as a perfect base for clandestine immigration into the EU, Belarus has opened up a new chapter in weaponizing uncontrolled movements of people worldwide: "Non-Coercive Engineered Migration".
    The illegitimate regime of Belarus has found fertile ground for causing international mischief targeting the Lithuanian and Polish governments -- which are providing vociferous support for the pro-democracy movement inside Belarus -- by harnessing pragmatic partners in western Europe who beyond any shadow of doubt wish to see the Polish government politically damaged.
    Belarus's policy aims, i.e. to damage the countries that are most active in supporting the pro-democracy movement inside Belarus, is being supported by opportunistic NGOs that view any prospect of toppling the Polish government by any means available as too attractive to turn down.
    In sum, spurious legalistic argumentation is being used to prioritize the understandable desires of people from far-off countries to improve their lot in life over the long-oppressed citizens of Belarus.
    It is supping with the devil.

    1. Frankly I think this understates the commitment to refugee rights of many signatories - some of whom have records of criticising their own governments, other governments and the EU on these issues well before the current Polish government took office. If anything other Member States have shown solidarity to Poland in this situation; and the proposal applies to two other Member States besides Poland.

  3. I believe this petition perfectly illustrates the vast discrepency between practitioners and academics and Im truly sadened to yet again witness the failure of the academic community to critically examine the consequences of secteristically clinging on to 70 years old legal principles that were obviously formulated for a completely different geopolitical and humanitarian situation compared to the migratory movements of 21st century. Not even a viciously orchestrated politically motivated proxy attack with people being used as human shields by the last dictatorship of Europe, with no bearing on any distinct refugee crises whatsoever, seems to be able to even raise the question in the academic fortresses on the reasonableness of these principles. Not even when the EU tries to do it the legal way be adapting to reality, may these principles -that literally every country in the world is protecting themselves against precisely because of their dogmatic, unreasonable and unsustainable nature- be touched. I think you should be fair and say straight out that you dont think countries have a right to protect their borders, because with your legalistic-ideological approach not a single person may be stopped from crossing an international border ever.

    1. Advocating the application of the Refugee Convention isn't for "legalistic" reasons - but for humanitarian ones.

  4. I find it hard to see the humanitarian side of upholding/advocating an obsolete system that encourages severe abuse of the type we see at the Polish and Lithuanian border. It is because of the refugee convention and its stiff principles that this miserable situation is made possible in the first place. I understand where you're coming from but please refrain from stating that "countries have a right to control their borders" when you obviously don't believe that. Since I admire you otherwise, it would be interesting to hear your suggestions on how G51 could be amended to fit reality and how to restore the trust of governments in a convention that since long has become something completely else than what they signed up for 70 years ago. Happy new year!

    1. I don't believe that the Convention should be amended, as it would likely lead to further humanitarian tragedies.

  5. That's the usual answer, yes. The fact is that as long as academics such as yourself refuse to address these obvious deficiencies and inconsistencies there will be other people gladly stepping in to fill that gap. And they might not have the superior moral compass that you and your colleagues signing the petition possess..

    1. Sneering ad hominem is not an argument.

    2. To be clear: once people start down this path, I do not read or publish further comments from them. The comments section on this blog is not a forum for ad hominems.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. The comments so eloquently illustrate how an increasing fraction of Europeans, including its intellectuals, think about human rights: a wonderful historical tool to protect the holly Europeen individual from totalitariansm and the harm we suffered in recent history (yes, the original Geneva Convention was only intended for already displaced European in 1951), but as soon as other historically oppressed people from the Global South (or even from the North, such as religious or sexual minorities, or women) invoke it, hold your horses: that can never have been the original intention, was it, your activist judges and academics? HRs as the priviliged's prerogative. Lest we forget.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  19. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.