The immigration crisis on the border between Poland and Belarus continues to ferment and evolve into a major contradiction in the relations between East and West Europe in 2021.
In the second half of 2021, tens of thousands of immigrants hoping to go to EU countries appeared on the border between Poland and Belarus.
These migrants tried to cross the border in the wild forest where the night temperature dropped below zero degrees Celsius, including many women and children, and some died on the spot. Both the UN Human Rights and UNHCR voiced their concerns about the crisis.
At the same time, Russia and Belarus are also holding joint military exercises near Poland; Poland has mobilized tens of thousands of troops to the border and used high-pressure water cannons and tear gas against immigrants trying to cross the border. Poland also claimed that it has military police in the area. Injured in the conflict.
Many senior officials in Western countries accused Belarus of trying to use refugees to attack EU countries, including Poland, and then accused Russia of being the mastermind behind the crisis.
What is the context of the immigration crisis on the border between Belarus and Poland? What direction might it take in the next step?
What is the origin of the escalation of conflicts between Belarus and the EU?
The escalation of the contradiction between the EU and Belarus began with political disputes, and the fuse was the 2020 Belarusian presidential election.
Belarus, accused of dictatorship, officially announced President Lukashenko’s sixth re-election, winning the support of 80% of voters. But the country’s opposition has accused Lukashenko of suspicion of election fraud. The EU subsequently announced that it would not recognize Lukashenko’s re-election and introduced a series of sanctions against Belarus.
At the same time, the struggle between the ruling and opposition parties within Belarus has become increasingly fierce.
In May 2021, Belarus forced a British Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania to land in Belarus and arrested a Belarusian dissident on board.
This move caused strong anger in many EU countries, and politicians in European countries called on the EU and NATO to intervene. The European Union then imposed tougher sanctions on the Belarusian government. The contradiction between the two sides has further escalated.
Why is the border immigration crisis intensifying?
Since the conflict between Europe and Belarus rose in 2020, the Belarusian authorities have cancelled or greatly simplified the tourist visa application requirements for 76 countries to enter Belarus. These include many countries affected by armed conflicts, including Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Large numbers of civilians are trying to leave these countries.
In Syria, Iraq and Turkey, travel agencies began to promote travel to Belarus, and even said that immigrants to the European Union can obtain housing and employment. Hundreds of similar offers appeared on WhatsApp, the most popular social media in the region.
According to conditions, such travel costs range from 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. dollars. The German broadcaster “Deutsche Welle” stated in the investigation that the Belarusian consulate even delegated the authority to issue Belarusian visas to these travel agencies.
In 2021, Belarus has greatly increased the number of flights to the Middle East. For example, in the European Union countries, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has shown that this is a fact. It is speculated that these travel agencies are supported by the Belarusian authorities.
Where do the refugees/immigrants mainly come from?
In 2021, most of the immigrants or refugees gathered in the forests on the border between Belarus and Poland are not Belarusians. The European Union accused Lukashenko of encouraging immigrants or refugees to come to Belarus.
Since the summer of 2021, Iraq has been one of the most important starting points for immigrants. In September, Joseph Borel, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, tried to negotiate with the Iraqi authorities to reduce the number of flights from Iraq to Belarus.
Now, the largest number of people trying to enter the EU in this way are Kurds from Syria. In Syria, they are threatened by Syrian authorities and Islamic State militants.
Many other immigrants come from residents of Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, and some African countries where there are political or religious armed conflicts, such as Congo or Ethiopia.
How did they reach the border of Baibo?
First, through regular (and occasionally charter) flights, these flight operators include Belavia Airlines in Belarus, Turkish and Qatar Airlines, and low-cost airlines owned by the UAE government to fly to Dubai.
Until the crisis approaches its climax in 2021, it is even possible to obtain a stamped refugee visa after arriving at the airport in Belarus if needed.
At the airport gate, it is almost impossible to determine whether the passenger is an immigrant or a refugee. They are rich, carry all the documents related to them, and they are in order. There are no exceptions to their clothes and ordinary passengers. As an airline, there is no reason not to allow passengers to board the flight for which they have bought their tickets.
What will happen next is still unclear. Videos taken by the migrants themselves when they arrived in Minsk show that everything is well organized when transferring from the airport or going to the borders of Lithuania or Poland. However, it is impossible to confirm who is organizing them.
How to cross the border?
At the beginning of the immigration crisis, Polish and Lithuanian border guards allowed people to pass and sent them to special reception facilities. At the same time, the foreign ministries of the two countries immediately accused Belarus of organizing this new phenomenon.
When hundreds of people started trying to cross the border every day, Poland and Lithuania stopped allowing them to enter and began to reinforce the border with barbed wire.
Now the only way to cross the borders between Poland and Lithuania through Belarus is illegal, but many people are willing to try.
They either broke through the border guards or were still searching for unguarded areas. The border between Belarus and Poland is approximately 400 kilometers long, and a large part of it is forest or swamp.
What are the actions of the Belarusian border guards?
Judging from dozens of declarations made by refugees and migrants, as well as videos released by the Lithuanian and Polish authorities in the past few weeks and months, the Belarusian Border Service has directly promoted migrants or refugees to cross the border illegally.
The Belarusian Border Service website actively commented on the immigration crisis, but it claimed that many people did not even know that they needed a visa to cross the border.
The website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus stated that Belarus is fulfilling its biggest responsibility to stop illegal immigration. The fundamental reason for the emergence of illegal immigration is that EU countries support the “color revolutions”-the people resist the uprisings of stable leaders, and the normal lives of people in these areas have been destroyed or wars are taking place.
In an interview with the Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva, an anonymous border officer called the activities of his department “a complete derogation of the law and oaths.”
What is the final destination of the immigrants?
Both Poland and Lithuania are just transit countries for refugees and immigrants. Many people plan to go to Germany, France, Austria and the Netherlands, where they may have relatives or friends and acquaintances.
According to the German authorities, at least 5,000 people have arrived in Germany through Belarus. This in turn triggered the EU’s dissatisfaction with Poland on immigration issues.
Will refugees and migrants stay in Belarus?
Yes, but the Belarusian authorities have never reported their exact number. According to residents of Minsk, hundreds of people have set up camps in shopping centers, underground passages, and entrances to residential buildings throughout the city.
Perhaps because of this, the Belarusian authorities began to tighten the conditions for arrival in the country in mid-November 2021 due to fears that the situation will get out of control.
In particular, they stopped issuing visas at the airport for citizens of the most problematic countries, including Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Yemen.
Has Russia played a role in the immigration crisis?
Many officials in EU countries think so. For example, Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki accused that the mastermind of the attack Lukashenko was launching was in Moscow and President Putin.
The Russian authorities flatly rejected these allegations. Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said that Moravitsky’s remarks were irresponsible and unacceptable.
Nevertheless, German Chancellor Merkel called on President Putin to intervene in this crisis. The European Union considers this a “mixed attack” aimed at destabilizing the European Union.
But Putin made a statement and denied that Russia was involved. He accused that Western countries led by the United States launched wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, which is the root cause of the refugee problem.