The arrival and settlement of migrants at the common borders of Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland has brought an unprecedented crisis to the European Union’s discussion table. Faced with this complex subject, we have tried to bring through this article some points of enlightenment on some aspects that still seem confusing.
HOW DID IT START?
The 2021 border crisis between Belarus and the European Union is a migration crisis that began last summer and is manifested by a massive outflow of migrants from the Middle East (mainly from Iraq) and Africa to Lithuania, Latvia and Poland via the borders of these countries with Belarus.
Added to this problem is the serious deterioration of relations between Belarus and the European Union, following the Belarusian presidential election of 2020, the Belarusian protests of 2020-2021, the incident of Ryanair flight 4978 and the attempted repatriation of Krystsina Tsimanouskaya.
The three European Union countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Poland) described the crisis as a hybrid war through human trafficking, waged by Belarus against the European Union, and called on Brussels to intervene. For European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, “This is not a migration crisis. This is an attempt at destabilization by an authoritarian regime against its democratic neighbors. It is the whole of the EU that is being challenged. ”
Since the beginning of the migration crisis, at least 11 migrants have died, seven of them on the Polish side of the border, according to the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. According to the latest figures, Poland has recorded a total of more than 32,000 attempts to enter its territory illegally, including 17,300 in October.
WHERE DO THESE MIGRANTS COME FROM?
These migrants are fleeing conflicts or misery in the Middle East or Africa. They come mostly from northern Iraq, but also from Syria, which has been at war for ten years. According to AFP, a Polish woman who helps migrants on the spot also said she saw people from Yemen, Ivory Coast and Cuba.
REACTION OF THE COUNTRIES INVOLVED IN THE CRISIS
At the refugee camps, several dozen people began to behave aggressively, to make a ruckus, to leave the camp grounds and to refuse to obey the orders of the border guards. To prevent rioting, the guards used tear gas and fired two shots in the air with rubber bullets. As Lithuania’s Minister of the Interior Agnė Bilotaitė said, there are plans to build a camp for 1,500 migrants on the territory of the nearby military camp.
The Latvian government has assigned the Ministry of the Interior 1.7 million euros for the acquisition and installation of barbed wire on the border with Belarus. According to Latvian border guards, migrants come to the Latvian border accompanied by armed Belarusian border service employees. Despite the fact that the United Nations (UN) is calling on Latvia to revise its policy against migrants, Interior Minister Maria Golubeva says that this will not happen and that Latvia will not let all the migrants through and wait several months to consider their refugee claims.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki charged Belarus with “state terrorism” and said his country was the target of a “new kind of war” with civilians used as “ammunition“.
Last September, Poland imposed a 30-day state of emergency, which it quickly extended, prohibiting non-residents from traveling to the border area. This is the first time the country has used this type of measure since the fall of communism in 1989.
Last October, Poland asked the European Union to fund a wall along its border that would cost 350 million euros. It then sent thousands of soldiers and built these barbed wire walls to contain the migrants on the Belarusian side. Today, we count 15,000 soldiers.
From the beginning, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has claimed that he was not the source of the migration crisis. During the dispute with the European Union, he said his country would respond to any new European sanctions related to the migrant crisis, including the possibility of suspending the operation of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, which runs through Belarus and delivers Russian gas to Germany and Poland.
Warsaw went further, also accusing Vladimir Putin’s Russia of masterminding the migration crisis and Minsk of “state terrorism” on November 10. On November 12, the Kremlin assured that its gas deliveries would continue. Although, the Belarusian president has insured that he wants to avoid the migration crisis, which he is accused of having instigated, it continues to rain sanctions of the European Union against Belarus, that makes five waves of sanctions already. On this new list of European sanctions, is now 26 entities and 183 people. Among them, the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and two of his sons.
WHAT DOES INTERNATIONAL OPINION DICTATE?
A UN team sent to Poland to investigate the situation of migrants at the border with Belarus was blocked from entering the area, said Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the organization, on Tuesday. She also called on the EU and its members to “ensure respect for human rights at the EU’s external borders”. The High Commissioner also called on Belarus and Poland to “urgently remedy” the “desperate situation in which migrants and refugees find themselves at the borders” between the two countries.
From all the above, we can say that a new form of cold war where the migration weapon is deliberately used by Belarus. And this really worries the international opinion and forces them to resort to sanctions. It remains to be seen whether these different waves of sanctions will be effective in dealing with this problem.