OVERVIEW OF THE CRISIS
Thousands of migrants have arrived at the Belarusian border since July 2021 (BBC 15/11/2021). As of November 13, around 20,000 migrants and asylum seekers were present in Belarus (NYT 17/11/2021; The Economist 13/11/2021). At least 5,000 people are stranded at the Polish-Belarusian border without adequate access to services or assistance (BBC 19/11/2021 a). Migrants and asylum seekers (mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria) intending to enter the EU have arrived in Belarus since the end of July (Vox News 14/11/2021; BBC 26 / 11/2021). Some have been stranded in border areas for weeks due to Polish border control “push-back” policies and Belarusian authorities’ coercion to cross again.
The crisis began when Belarusian authorities, through tourist agencies, began promoting tours with tourist visas to Belarus in the Middle East (BBC 10/22/2021). The smugglers also spread disinformation on social media to encourage travel to Belarus (NYT 11/22/2021). Once people arrived in Belarus, disinformation led them to believe that they could easily enter the EU by crossing the Polish, Lithuanian or Latvian borders.
In response, the three countries deployed border patrols and erected fences to deter passage (The Economist 09/11/2021). Lithuania declared a state of emergency for one month as of November 10 (CNN 11/11/2021), while Latvia declared a state of emergency for three months as of August 11 (France 24 08/10/2021). Polish authorities have tightened border controls and prevented migrants from entering the country. The Polish government, the EU,
NATO and the United States have accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of fabricating the crisis in retaliation for EU sanctions for the arrest of dissidents, which occurred amid contested elections in Belarus and a crackdown on the opposition (CNN 09/11/2021; DW 13/11/2021; AP News 11/11/2021; BBC 19/11/2021 b).
On September 2, Poland declared a state of emergency covering 183 localities in a 3 km strip along the border with Belarus in the provinces of Podlaskie and Lubelskie (Polish Republic Service 31/08/2021) . The restrictions include a ban on staying in the area covered by the state of emergency; a ban on recording and photographing objects and areas, including border infrastructure, border control officers, police and soldiers; and limited access to public information on activities carried out in the region. The state of emergency was extended by 60 days on September 30 (bne IntelliNews 01/10/2021). Only Polish border guards, ambulances and residents are allowed to enter the 3 km exclusion zone along the border (The Guardian 10/21/2021). There have been documented cases of ambulances not entering the area. Reasons include unclear locations and the ambulance used by medical activists is refused entry (KII 23/11/2021 b).
In October, Belarus reported the stopping of 5,000 border crossing attempts, while Polish border guards registered 11,300 (DW 11/09/2021; Schengen Visa 11/10/2021). By comparison, the Polish border agency recorded only 88 attempts in 2020 (BBC 11/16/2021).
In November, a group of migrants tried to reach Poland via Ukraine but were stopped by border control (KII 23/11/2021 a)