The 2021 Belarus-EU border crisis is an immigrant crisis, leading to an influx of tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa into Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland through the state’s borders with Belarus. As of August 2020, a wave of illegal migrants swept through Belarus to Poland; the former was accused of waging hybrid warfare by orchestrating illicit crossings. In response, Poland has sought to reinforce its border by employing 1000 men across the border and constructing a border fence to deal with the destabilizing impact of the crises.
According to Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, Lukashenko is utilizing the Belarusian border in his broader attempt to destabilize Europe. The number of migrants crossing the Polish-Belarus border has sharply increased as compared to the figures in 2020. As of 6th August, Poland reports 133 illegal crossing attempts in two days; this number far exceeds the total number of immigrants in the last year. As of September, the estimated number of immigrants attempting to sneak from Belarus to the EU was as high as 10,000, with more than 32,000 intercepted attempts of crossing Poland’s border. Currently, almost 4000 immigrants remain stranded in the vicinity of the border region.
The greatest attempt to destabilize Europe since Cold-war
On 21st November 2021, Mateusz Morawiecki described the border crises along the Belarus-Poland border, the EU’s Eastern Front, as “the greatest attempt to destabilize Europe” since the end of the Cold War. Moreover, according to Poland, Lukashenko has the ‘back-room support’ of Russian president Putin who is also an ally of the Belarusian government. Morawiecki declared the crises as a new type of war in which immigrants are utilized as a tool and disinformation as a weapon. These remarks were issued ahead of his meeting with the EU leaders during the times when Poland is not only dealing with the immigrant issue but increased tensions with the EU over the accusation of Warsaw’s breach of the bloc’s democratic order.
According to Poland, Belarus has artificially crafted the crises by bringing in would-be-immigrant, majorly from the Middle Eastern region, and taking to the Polish border with the promise of an easy crossing into the EU. Polish president Lukashenko asserted that there is an absolute possibility that Polish forces have assisted migrants crossing into Poland, but he rejected the accusation that they have been invited or that Belarus has orchestrated the operation. He stated that “We are Slavs. We have Hearts. Our troops know that the migrants are going to Germany.” Moreover, he added that he would not even look into the matter, or detain, hold, or stop immigrants because they are not coming to Poland.
On the contrary, Belarus has criticized the EU for not taking in the refugees. However, Morawiecki has asserted that Poland will not be blackmailed by the entire situation and will employ all possible means to defend the EU borders. Polish PM also cautioned that today Poland’s is the target, but in future, it could be other countries, including Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, etc. Therefore, there needs to be a collective response to deal with the situation.
Transition in Belarus’ tactics- repeated attempts to cross the border
On 18th November 2021, the Belarus border force declared that immigrant camps along the Kuznica border had been cleared, and its occupants were relocated voluntarily to a nearby reception centre where there were given access to food and clothes. This development came a few days after Angela Merkel and Alexander Lukashenko exchanged their views over a phone call. Another point of potential de-escalation of the crises is that nearly 400 Iraqi immigrants agreed to take outbound repatriation flights; as of 22nd November, nearly 120 immigrants left and more are due to follow in the coming days. According to Polish authorities, these incidents at the border represents that Belarus has transformed its tactics, but it is still using Middle Eastern migrants as a weapon in its standoff with the EU.
Polish Border Guard spokeswomen stated that on 22nd November, approximately 50 immigrants attempted to cross the border; 18 individuals made it across the barbed wire fences. Similarly, later another group of the same size assembled but remained unsuccessful. This represents that Belarus has transformed its tactics; therefore, it is now directing smaller sized groups of dozens of individuals to several points alongside the EU’s frontier.
Polish officials estimate that there are still approximately 10,000, or even more, migrants in Belarus; this could exacerbate further issues. Lukashenko blatantly denied the accusation of fermenting the crises and has called the EU and Germany to admit some immigrants, while Belarus would repatriate the others; however, the bloc has firmly rejected this.
Migrant conditions in the border vicinity
Immigrants have spent a significant amount of money to fly to Belarus on tourist war, with the majority of them escaping poverty. According to humanitarian organizations, nearly 13 immigrants have died along the border, and many more have faced worsening conditions, including cold weather, damp forests, and lack of access to warm clothes, food, water, or shelter. As of 21st November, the Belarusian Health Ministry stated that the WHO mission has arrived in the country to assist and organize health support for refugees. The human toll of the crises is as such that the Imam of Poland’s village laid his unborn child to rest, who died in the womb of his mother.
Is polish rhetoric aimed to divert attention?
As Morawiecki is all set to visit Baltic countries to discuss the future of the crises, some analysts are of the opinion that Poland is using its discourse on the border crises to divert attention away from its controversial reforms that constrain the judicial independence of the EU.
The Poland border issue is a grave threat to European stability and requires a unified Western response, such as sanctions against Belarus. At a UNSC meeting, Russia and the West traded barbs over the issue; the Russian envoy stated his European colleagues to have “masochist inclinations.” The 15-member body highly condemns the instrumentalization of human lives for political purposes, with the broader implication of destabilizing neighboring states. They viewed it as means for Poland to sway away from its human rights violations.
Written By: Olivium's Staff.