Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The crisis at the Belarus-Poland border: what you need to know about the migrant crisis created by the leader of Belarus

Using migrants as pawns is perhaps nothing new. But rarely do you have a situation in which a country encourages a migrant crisis on its border for naked geopolitical reasons.

It appears to be taking place at the Poland-Belarus border, where violence has erupted between Polish border guards and Middle Eastern migrants who traveled there via Belarus, and who are set to reach the European Union. Meanwhile, there is growing concern over people camping in cold conditions.

The Conversation asked Tatiana Kulkevich, an expert in Eastern European politics at the University of South Florida, how the migrant crisis came to be and what the consequences could be.

What’s going on at the Belarus-Polish border?

Images of migrants – many of them families with children – camping at the Belarus-Poland border, trying to make their way into Poland and terrified of water hoses, have attracted international attention in recent days. has done. But the crisis has taken months to build.

The influx of migrants from the Middle East to Belarus began in early 2021. But they did not come to live in Belarus. His final destination was Western Europe. Now, thousands of people are spending the night near the barbed wire fence separating Belarus from EU member Poland.

The situation took a dramatic turn on 8 November when thousands of new arrivals appeared on the Belarus-Poland border and tried to break through the temporary fence on the border with the goal of crossing into the European Union.

There is a turning point in this migrant crisis – it appears to have been encouraged by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, as part of a ploy to flood EU members bordering Belarus – Poland, Lithuania and Latvia with border conflicts. At the heart of it is the number of migrants largely in retaliation for a series of sanctions against the Lukashenko government.

Lukashenko denies encouraging migrants to Europe. The evidence suggests otherwise.

Belarus state airline Belavia increased the number of flights in recent months from the Middle East – including Iraq, Lebanon and Syria – to enable more migrants to arrive. For example, flightradar24.com, which monitors global air traffic, reported 27 flights from Beirut to Minsk from August to November 2021, compared to only five flights throughout 2020.

And according to some migrants from Iraq, Belarusian authorities arranged for their stay in hotels and helped them reach the border with Poland. It is reported that the migrants were cut into border fences by Belarusian border guards, allowing them to bypass the official checkpoint. Meanwhile, other migrants say they were provided with axes and wire cutters by Belarusian border guards to cut the fence.

In response, the Polish government has closed its border with Belarus.

What is the background of the crisis?

The Belarusian government’s action appears to be in retaliation for economic sanctions imposed by the international community in response to Lukashenko’s increasingly autocratic regime.

In August 2020, Belarusian authorities cracked down on protesters demanding Lukashenko’s resignation after a controversial – many say rigged – election. Opposition leaders say 30,000 people were detained in an attempt to suppress the demonstrations.

The United States and the European Union refused to recognize Lukashenko’s legitimacy as president and, in September 2020, imposed a series of sanctions targeting Belarusian officials with asset deposits and travel restrictions.

The European Union followed up with two more rounds of sanctions in November and December of that year.

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A fourth pack of EU sanctions came when Belarus blocked a Ryanair flight in May 2021 carrying Raman Pratsevich, an opposition journalist and former editor-in-chief of Telegram Nexta news channel, along with 132 other passengers. Belarusian authorities arrested the journalist and his accomplice before allowing the plane to continue to its destination. In June 2021, Pratsevich was placed under house arrest.

Lukashenko has sought to suppress any signs of protest activities. Since the start of the presidential election campaign in May 2020, the number of political prisoners in Belarus has increased from three to 868 as of November 18, 2021.

Where are these refugees coming from and why?

The asylum seekers are mostly Kurds from Iraq, fleeing persecution and poverty. But there are also migrants from Lebanon, Syria and Afghanistan. They are trying to enter the EU member states Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

Previously, Middle Eastern migrants mainly crossed Turkey’s border with the European Union, and from Africa via the Mediterranean Sea.

These crossings can be treacherous, so flying directly into Belarus instead of risking drowning proved an attractive option.

But now thousands are stranded or hiding on the Belarusian-Polish border, facing freezing temperatures. The cold and lack of humanitarian aid have resulted in several cases of hypothermia and at least nine deaths.

What are the prospects for resolving the crisis?

Lukashenko is using border issues as leverage against the European Union. It wants to remove or relax existing sanctions and recognize that he is the legitimate ruler of Belarus.

Meanwhile, the European Union has announced plans for further sanctions against Belarus. But it has also stymied the prospect of talks on a solution to the migration crisis.

Lukashenko and Germany’s acting chancellor, Angela Merkel, have made two phone calls since the escalation of the border crisis on 8 November. They represented Lukashenko’s first conversation with a European leader since the 2020 presidential election.

The phone call came after Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ally of the Belarusian regime, called on EU leaders to speak directly with Lukashenko.

What could be the result?

The European Union, the United States and NATO have strongly condemned the introduction of Lukashenko’s migrants to the EU border. The European Union recently announced plans for a fifth round of sanctions against Belarus, targeting airlines, travel agencies and individuals believed to be pushing migrants.

In return, Lukashenko has threatened to retaliate against further sanctions, including blocking natural gas transit from Russia to EU countries via Belarus.

Setting the stage for this, on 17 November, Belarus banned the pumping of oil through the Druzhba pipeline to Poland, saying it was the result of “unscheduled repair work” that would last about three days.

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But cutting off gas supplies to Europe will probably be a short-term measure for Lukashenko. Anything more than a few days would be against Russia’s interests and could lead to a rift with Putin – and keeping Putin by his side is important to Lukashenko.

Moscow has provided a financial lifeline to Lukashenko’s regime and has promised to protect Belarus from external military threats. As long as Lukashenko retains Putin’s support, he will be able to suppress dissent internally and ignore international pressure to respect borders.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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