Poland-Belarus border crisis: what’s going on and who is to blame? | Migration

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What is happening at the border?

More than 1,000 people, many fleeing the dangerous conditions of Middle Eastern countries, have flocked to Poland’s border with Belarus this week in a dramatic escalation of a latent migration crisis to the far reaches of the country. EU. They had been escorted to the border by Belarusian authorities.

Clashes broke out with Polish police in riot gear. Some in the crowd attempted to enter Poland by cutting a border fence or hitting it with logs. The police used chemical sprays to repel people.

In the evening, the group pitched tents and lit campfires a few meters from the Polish border. Many are women and young children and the conditions are extremely dangerous, with temperatures dropping below freezing overnight.

Thousands more were already scattered across the border region in much smaller groups, playing cat and mouse with Polish customs officials. At least eight people have died from exposure in the area in the past two months.

Polish authorities have pledged to prevent anyone from crossing the border. Many who try to enter Poland wish to go to Germany.

Why is this happening and how has Poland reacted?

Poland, the EU, NATO and others all accuse Belarus of intentionally triggering the crisis by allowing people wishing to come to the EU from the Middle East and Africa to travel to Minsk and then provide them with transport to the Polish border.

Migrants gather at the Belarusian-Polish border. Photograph: BelTA / Reuters

EU leaders say Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is motivated by revenge on sanctions and criticism of his brutal crackdown on Belarusian opposition. Other observers believe he wants concessions from the EU and others.

Polish authorities have reacted harshly to the arrival of migrants, imposing a state of emergency that prevents aid from reaching those trapped in the border area. Recently passed laws have allowed police to ignore asylum claims and summarily deport migrants to Belarus. The government also approved a new Donald Trump-style border wall to prevent them from entering the country. According to the government, nearly 30,000 attempts to cross borders have taken place this year, including 17,000 in October.

Border map

Where do refugees come from?

Many of the people in the border camp that was set up on Monday are Iraqi Kurds who started their journey from Minsk on Sunday evening. Flights from Iraqi Kurdistan have been an important way for smugglers to bring people from various countries in the Middle East to Belarus. Nationals of Syria and Afghanistan, as well as African countries such as Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have also taken the “Belarus route” to Europe rather than attempting dangerous sea crossings from Turkey or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ‘North Africa.

What is the international community doing?

International and local NGOs have called on Poland to allow access to the border region to provide supplies and medical aid to avert a humanitarian crisis. The government’s state of emergency keeps aid organizations and journalists out of certain areas.

Western countries have increased the pressure on Minsk. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has pledged more support for Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to control the border. She said the EU would explore “how to sanction, including through blacklists, airlines from third countries active in human trafficking”.

What could happen next?

Poland has adopted an uncompromising response and its leaders appear unlikely to admit thousands of asylum seekers from the Middle East, even though most wish to travel to Germany. And the EU seems to be balancing its humanitarian values ​​with its political considerations, including a difficult relationship with Poland.

Meanwhile, temperatures in the wooded no-man’s land between Belarus and Poland are dropping and getting more dangerous every day. And hundreds of desperate people arrive in Minsk every week. The crisis seems unlikely to end soon.

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