Belarus: what is this migration crisis at the border?

The Europeans accuse the Belarusian dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, of having fueled a vast migratory crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border by issuing visas to refugees and sending them there, in order to avenge the European sanctions adopted against them. his country for its crackdown on the opposition since the 2020 presidential election.

Access at the border area has been blocked for journalists and NGOs, but images released by authorities in both countries show hundreds of people in tents, lighting fires to warm themselves in freezing temperatures.

Poland announced, Wednesday, November 10, to have launched a net against migrants massed at the border, by arresting about fifty of them. Warsaw also reported an increase in attempts to cross the border and claimed that some refugees had succeeded, without specifying the number.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Tuesday clearly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin, Minsk’s main ally, of being the “Sponsor” of this migratory wave. Charges qualified as“Irresponsible and unacceptable” by the Kremlin.

For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked Vladimir Putin, during a telephone interview, “To act” versus “Unacceptable and inhuman instrumentalisation” migrants by the Lukashenko regime.

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  • What is happening on the Polish-Belarusian border?

On a video posted on Twitter, Monday, November 8, by the Polish defense ministry, we can see several hundred migrants massed near the crossing point of Kuznica, a border village of Belarus.

Another video shows refugees trying to force border barriers for help shears, shovels or even tree branches. The Polish guards, supported by the police and the army, responded with tear gas jets.

According to several accounts, Belarusian border guards fired in the air to force migrants to advance. In some videos, masked and armed men are seen providing logistical assistance and providing tools to the refugees.

Monday evening, the Polish authorities assured that between 3,000 and 4,000 migrants were currently in this border area, on the Belarusian side, and that fifteen thousand of them would still be scattered across the country. These are mainly Iraqi Kurds and Syrians, seeking to flee their country which is sinking into civil war.

The situation is not recent. Since this summer, the Polish-Belarusian border has been the scene of a major migratory crisis and the subject of tensions between Warsaw and Minsk. But in recent days, the tone has risen between the two countries.

  • A migration crisis that started this summer

“The situation is complex”, warns Georges Mink, emeritus research director at the Institute of Social Sciences of Politics (CNRS), specialist in Central and Eastern Europe. The Belarusian dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, he explains in substance, orchestrated in early August the arrival of a wave of refugees, mainly from the Middle East, in response to economic sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) after its brutal repression of the opposition – which he denies. Since then, migratory pressure on the Polish and Lithuanian borders has continued to increase.

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“By doing so, Lukashenko is seeking to impose his conditions on the EU. He tells member states: “I stop, but only if you lift your sanctions and recognize me as the only legitimate ruler in Belarus.” “, details the researcher. Thus, the Belarusian dictator “Instrumentalizes migrants for political ends”. And if the situation escalates between Warsaw and Minsk, “It is quite simply because Poland is on the migratory corridor that Lukashenko opened. What he is aiming for is the heart of Europe, not Poland directly ”, underlines Georges Mink.

“Sealing the Polish border is in our national interest. But today it is the stability and security of the entire EU that is at stake ”, besides assured, Tuesday, the Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, on Twitter. This is the reason why the Polish and European authorities speak of a “Hybrid attack” of Belarus.

  • Hundreds of refugees caught in the crossfire

Poland sent around 15,000 troops to the border, erected a razor-sharp barbed wire fence and enforced a state of emergency, barring journalists and NGOs from entering. Few of the images and unofficial information come out of this border territory, 400 kilometers long, which has become a lawless zone.

Testimonies from migrants who arrived in Poland speak of violence and threats from Belarusian authorities to push them across the border and prevent them from going back. At the same time, videos taken on the Belarusian side reveal the brutality of the pushbacks carried out by the Poles. More than 90% of the refugees arrested on the Polish side are sent back to the border and left in the middle of the forest. These pushbacks are illegal under international law, but widely practiced at EU borders. On October 14, the Polish Parliament amended the migration law by legalizing this process, which has been denounced by lawyers and non-governmental organizations as a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention.

Destitute and desperate, tossed from one border to another, the migrants have no other solution than to take the dangerous paths, through the marshes, the lakes and the immense forest of Bialowieza. Since the summer, at least ten migrants have died in the region, including seven on the Polish side of the border, according to the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. According to some NGOs, the toll could be higher. “In this crisis, migrants are hostages of the policy led by Lukashenko”, summarizes Georges Mink.

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  • Lukashenko caught in his own trap?

According to Minsk border guards, these thousands of migrants are now crowded, under a temperature approaching zero degrees, in a makeshift camp on the Belarusian side.

On Tuesday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko insisted that his country “Will not kneel” before the EU, while ensuring that it “Was not looking for a fight”, aware of the risk of collapse in the event of armed conflict. Shortly before, Mr. Lukashenko had spoken with his Russian ally Vladimir Putin, to whom he complained about the deployment “Particularly worrying” Polish troops at the border, according to the Kremlin.

For Georges Mink, the Belarusian leader could well be caught in his own trap:

“Lukashenko has always played a double game: when tensions are too high with Europe, he turns to Russia. But, currently, its relations are not in good shape with Moscow. For Putin, supporting Lukashenko would mean going to war with all of Europe, which is not in his interest. “

In a way, Lukashenko’s strategy turned out to be “Too effective”, according to the researcher. “Today it is overwhelmed by the influx of refugees on its territory. And his irresponsible policy has turned the Polish-Belarusian border into a powder keg ”, he asserts.

  • How is Europe reacting?

The European Union on Tuesday suspended arrangements to facilitate the issuance of visas for officials of the Belarusian regime. A measure that “Will not affect” Belarusian citizens “Ordinary”, said the Council of the EU.

“We strongly condemn and reject the further instrumentalization of migration by the Belarusian regime. It is unacceptable that Belarus is playing with the lives of human beings for political ends ”, said Slovenian Interior Minister Ales Hojs, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

In addition, Brussels announced on Tuesday that it was monitoring twenty countries, including Russia, for their possible role in the transport of migrants to Belarus. The other target countries are South Africa, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Côte d’Ivoire, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Senegal, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tunisia, Venezuela, Yemen. The EU is particularly interested in the frequency of flights organized from these countries, and their occupancy rate.

The day before, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, had called on the member states to approve new sanctions against the Belarusian authorities and to consider measures against the airlines which transport migrants to Belarus. The new sanctions are to be discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on November 15.

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