As this is being written, there are thousands of migrants stranded at the Poland-Belarus border trying to enter Western Europe but are being denied entry at the border by armed guards. This issue has been ongoing for months now and has its roots in political turmoil in the country of Belarus.
In August 2020, Alexander Lukashenko was elected President of Belarus. The opposition parties and Western nations regarded the election as a sham. The general population did not want to be ruled by an authoritarian leader such as this which led to months of protests and demonstrations. The Belarusian authorities responded with arrests and beating people. The European Union (EU) and the United States imposed sanctions on the Lukashenko government.
Source – Business Insider
Earlier in May this year, a passenger jet flying from Greece to Lithuania was diverted by Belarus to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Belarusian authorities arrested dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich. The EU regarded this as ‘air piracy’ and banned Belarusian air carriers from its skies. It also cut imports of the country’s top commodities, such as petroleum products and potash.
The Lukashenko government did not like this and decided that they would no longer uphold an agreement to stem illegal immigration. Planes started arriving from the Middle East and Asia, carrying migrants who wished to go deeper into Europe via Poland. As a result of this, migrants are stuck at the Belarus-Poland border in difficult conditions. The crowds comprise many babies and toddlers as well, who are having to withstand freezing temperatures, little food, and almost no medical help. The migrants are currently living in makeshift camps. The Polish guards continue to refuse them entry.
Source – The Guardian
Recently, the Belarusian authorities moved the migrants to a warehouse for processing, thus providing some temporary relief from inhuman conditions. However, the authorities are yet to decide how to deal with the horde of migrants who are attempting to travel to Europe in hope of a better life.
Lukashenko has been accused of relaxing its migration policy in order to retaliate against sanctions imposed upon Belarus. According to some nations, he is attempting to destabilize the European Union. He had threatened to ‘flood’ the EU with drug traffickers, human traffickers, and armed migrants.
The EU is currently siding with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Another round of sanctions against Belarus are being discussed and the bloc is also considering financing the building of barriers and fences along the border. The border issue has drawn attention from human rights organizations around the world. Poland has been criticized for its treatment of the migrants, specifically denying them the opportunity to lodge asylum claims and requests, not providing them with an adequate level of food, water, and shelter, and not allowing journalists, doctors, and NGOs near the border.
According to a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) investigation, most of the illegal immigrants are ethnic and religious minorities from Iraq, who attempt to escape persecution from the Islamic State. There are other groups who look for a new life abroad due to a lack of opportunities in their home countries.
Source – BBC
The numbers are not precise, but it is estimated that Belarus is hosting between 5000 and 20000 migrants from the Middle East and Africa. Belarusian nationals are uncomfortable with the presence of migrants and this is putting pressure on the authorities to come up with an effective solution. An independent analyst stated that Lukashenko is getting back at the EU for sanctions imposed and he hopes that they will be relaxed, at the very least.
The sanctions have hurt key industries of the country and the economy is has taken a hit. The analyst further stated that Belarusian authorities have tried to talk to and bargain with the EU, but such efforts have been in vain. The migrants were simply ‘pawns’ in a hybrid attack conducted by Lukashenko. The President has urged Poland to let refugees pass in order to reach Germany. He said he will not stand in the way of any refugees who wish to cross the border.
The situation is quite dire, with alternative scenarios popping up. There is a fear that migrants could try to enter the EU via Ukraine. There are also concerns that Lukashenko’s next move could be to facilitate the movement of refugees from Afghanistan to the EU. Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, has already planned to deploy an additional 8500 border guards and police officers along its border with Belarus.
Belarus has started transporting migrants home on planes, mainly Iraqis back to Erbil, which is the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region. There have been at least 12-13 migrant deaths reported by authorities at the border.
Written by- Aahan Tulshan
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