Nimra Dawood is an undergraduate student, pursuing a degree in international relations from National Defence University, Islamabad. She is interested in current affairs, geopolitical trends, regional political dynamics, and power transition in the international arena. She loves to critically analyze the changing dynamics of the world and the motives of key actors.
The ongoing border crisis at Kuznica, south of Grodno in the northwest of Belarus, has left thousands of people stranded between the border forces of Poland and Belarus. Reports suggest that more than 5,000 people including children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities are stuck at the Poland-Belarus border in cold without food and other necessities.
These immigrants have been arriving in Belarus since July from war-torn states including Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, and which now account for more than 20,000 people who are expecting to get asylum status in some European state. Anecdotal stories and videos show people using a wire cutter to get into Poland, forced by the Belarusian officials to do so.
The crisis started when Belarusian authorities started promoting tours by providing visas to the devastated people of war-waged states in the Middle East. People were persuaded to believe that they could enter the European Union via Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania without any resistance, by spreading misinformation through social media.
A large number of migrants started coming to the border areas that led to the declaration of a state of emergency by the said three countries with the deployment of border patrols and fencing of borders to discourage illegal border crossing. In Poland, restrictions from entering the Poland-Belarus border are in place; only security officials, ambulances, and residents are allowed to enter the area that is isolated up to 3km in the province of Podlaskie and Lubelskie.
In October, the Polish Parliament adopted a constitutional amendment that gives a right to the authorities to dismiss the asylum applications of the refugees. This move was condemned and criticized by the EU commission, humanitarian aid agencies, and other members of the EU Parliament. Poland is also planning to build a wall along its border with Belarus which will further undermine the idea of seeking asylum in the state.
The Polish government, the EU, NATO, and the US have considered the migrant crisis to be fabricated and designed by President Lukashenko in retaliation to the sanctions imposed by the EU due to the atrocities carried out during and following the controversial elections of 2020.
Similarly, he has been threatening the EU with the issue of migrant influx every time he is criticized for the violation of liberty and freedom by saying ‘you don’t appreciate me, that I am defending you from the illegal migrants, I am defending you from the drug trafficking, I’m guarding your eastern border, and you’re not grateful.’
The EU and the US are not willing to give leverage to Belarus for getting rid of this crisis by removing the sanctions in place, rather they have placed more sanctions on Belarus, with the individuals and authorities involved in creating the crisis being blacklisted. It includes Belarus’s national airline, Belavia, for bringing thousands of people to Belarus from different countries, especially the Middle Eastern region.
In addition to this, Turkey’s Civil Aviation Authority has stopped citizens of Iraq, Syria, and Yemen from travelling to Belarus along with suspending visa applications in Iraq by revoking the Belarusian honorary consul of Baghdad. President Lukashenko has denied the allegation of planned provocation and has reiterated that people are not willing to leave the Poland-Belarus border points even after being forced by the Belarusian authorities.
He has threatened to stop the gas supply from Russia to Europe which passes through the Belarusian territory, which will affect Nord Stream 1 and 2 which make up 50% of the European natural gas supplies.
The Weaponization of Migrants
The phone call discussion between Lukashenko and Angela Merkel suggests that the objective of Belarus to get into negotiations with the EU has been successful. He wants the EU to remove the sanctions placed on Belarus and accept him as the ruler of his state by using the migrants at the Poland-Belarus border as a weapon.
The EU has been paying money to Turkey for accepting and settling Middle Eastern immigrants into refugee camps to lessen the influx of people into Europe due to the rise of populism and the anti-migrant attitude of far-rightist political parties. Likewise, Belarus also wants to get benefitted by stopping the migrants from entering through illegal means.
Facebook has recently linked the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus (Belarusian KGB) with many accounts that created and spread misinformation about the migrant crisis and atrocities being done by the Polish authorities on defenceless men along the Poland-Belarus border.
Although President Vladimir Putin has dismissed any linkages to the Poland-Belarus border crisis, the use of nuclear-capable bombers to patrol over the border of Belarus “due to the military buildup on the border” clearly depicts the deep involvement of the Kremlin in this issue. In addition to this, after the sanctions were placed on Belarus by Brussels, Putin joined hands with Lukashenko and made Russia the top economic and diplomatic partner of Belarus.
Some security analysts have suggested that Russia wants to attain a negotiating position in this crisis by playing the role of a mediator to prove its influence and importance in the former Soviet republics.
Can an economically devastated country, placed under sanctions which saw its boom by exporting Potash and refined petroleum to the EU, threaten the supply of Russia which is the biggest trade partner? The answer is no, only with the support and assurance of Russia, Belarus has threatened the EU to cut off its gas supplies.
Since the beginning of this crisis, at least 13 people have died including 2 children. Due to the lack of information, it remains unclear what has caused the death of these people. Similarly, the exact number of deaths cannot be known because of the terrain of the area and the denial of providing access to the media. Medical care is urgently needed for the migrants due to high rates of hypothermia, dehydration, hunger, food poisoning, and trauma.
The temperature of this region falls below -29 degrees centigrade in January which will severely affect the stranded people. The first snowfall has already been recorded on 23 November, which makes it urgent for the aid agencies and others to arrange shelters for the migrants before the temperature falls to the lowest.
Reports received state that families have been separated and some parents have lost their children in the forest, while others are left with nothing as the Belarusian authorities have confiscated everything from them. Anecdotal reports of sexual and gender-based violence have been seen due to overcrowding and the non-segregated environment of the warehouses in which these migrants are kept.
- There should be a smooth de-escalation of the situation and all countries must ensure humane treatment of the migrants.
- The EU should facilitate the Polish authorities to relocate the immigrants so that they can be temporarily relocated elsewhere in the EU.
- It is a human right to seek asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 33 (1) of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and Article 18 of the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the EU. However, there has been a debate in International law whether seeking asylum is the right of an individual or a state. Whatever the case may be, states should provide people with basic human rights and stop using them as political leverage.
- Returning to Belarus is not a safe option for the migrants as it is not allowing the migrants to leave the border even when they do not want to cross the border anymore. In pushing back the migrants, Poland is breaching several laws by forcing people to go to an area where there is a high rate of torture and ill-treatment.
- Belarus and Poland should immediately stop all the atrocities being carried out on the immigrants and allow media access to the camps.
- People should immediately be provided with food, aid, medical care, legal assistance, and shelter.
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