The migration crisis has been developing on the borders of Belarus with the European Union since May 2021. People from the Middle East, North, and even West Africa are trying to enter the European Union illegally. Here’s what’s going on.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka used to claim that migrants are not being stopped in response to the West’s actions against Belarus. However, the Belarusian route has never been used by migrants from the Middle East and Africa, Belarus doesn’t border their countries, and the flight isn’t cheap.
In Middle Eastern countries, refugees are given far fewer rights and assistance. Belarus also does not offer migrants any special conditions. The bulk of migrants seek to get to Germany, as Germans provide migrants with financial assistance and better conditions than other countries. Comparable conditions can be provided by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. There are legal ways to migrate to those countries, but the conditions are strict, and the process is long and without a guarantee of success.
Probably tens of thousands. Only 3 to 4 thousand people participated in the march on Poland on October 8-9, and quite a few migrants stayed in Minsk. Lithuania and Poland report hundreds of less massive attempts to cross the border illegally on a daily basis. More than 8 thousand migrants have reached Germany via Belarus.
Some are running away from war or repression. But judging by the large number of rejected asylum applications, the bulk of them are not fleeing because of immediate danger. Migrants leave poor and highly corrupt countries — some from hopelessness, others from ethnic discrimination (there are many Kurds among the refugees – a large nation without a state), some from military service.
Migrants pay “guides” from $2,000 to $12,000 or $14,000 per person. Some get help from many relatives (moreover, after legalization abroad a migrant can invite his family to join him), but some migrants are people with good earnings by the standards of their countries, highly qualified specialists.
Belarusian border guards do not let them go back, and they do it openly. Migrants say Belarusian border guards also rob them. Several migrants have already died from cold and tough conditions.
Belarusian authorities do not prevent illegal migration and do not stop obvious crimes, they give visas to “tourists” who later go to the border, some companies have special rights from Belarusian authorities to work with potential migrants. Polish and Lithuanian border guards, as well as migrants themselves, claim that Belarusian border guards help them cross the border. Western politicians have repeatedly called the crisis a “hybrid attack” or “hybrid assault” by Belarus, “using people as weapons,” and “human trafficking. Some experts say that not only Belarus, but Russia is also behind the crisis.
They blame Lithuania, Poland, and the United States. According to the Belarusian authorities, “the fault” of the border countriesis that they refuse to let migrants in, even though “Merkel invited them” (this is a fake based on the events of 2015). Also, the Belarusian side accuses Polish border guards of allegedly leaving the sick in danger, allegedly beating and intimidating migrants. They claim that it is Polish and Lithuanian border guards who provoke the Belarusian ones. They explain their inaction by saying that migrants arrived in Belarus legally and do not violate laws in Belarus (“forgetting” that they are illegally crossing the Belarusian border, among other things). They admit that migrants in Belarus lack food and water, but they refuse humanitarian assistance.
They react weakly and slowly. For example, Iraqi authorities stopped flights to Belarus only three months after the start of the crisis, they closed Belarusian consulates only six months later. The authorities of the countries of migrants’ origin express their concern, they only occasionally take their citizens away from Belarus.
It is unknown, but Belarusian officials and independent analysts alike say that Lukashenka wants the West to negotiate with him — perhaps to soften or lift sanctions, to recognize him as the legitimate ruler of Belarus.
Both Lithuania and Poland say they will not allow migrants to be used as weapons. But there is an ongoing debate about the fate of migrants. Some say that Belarus is a “safe country” where migrants should seek asylum, some argue that migrants in Belarus are endangered. Some speak of migration for purely economic reasons, others speak of them fleeing from humanitarian disaster. While someone says that it is necessary to let in people who are in distress right now, others may reply that more migrants will come making the distress bigger. Many people think it is wrong that migrants are sent back to Belarus when they have already crossed the border. Some analysts believe that the migration crisis was organized just to start such disputes, and that the political situation in the countries of the European Union is destabilized.
It will reposd with another package of sanctions, or even the actual closure of the sky over Belarus, the closure of the border crossing in the crisis area, the declaration of a state of emergency on the border, the reinforcement of borders with military units and fences, negotiations with the countries of migrants’ origin and, possibly, with Russia.
There are volunteer organizations in Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Local residents hold fundraisers. But volunteers in Poland are not allowed into the emergency zone — sometimes they act secretly. In Belarus, it is hardly possible to help migrants: non-governmental organizations are under pressure, and the flow of migrants is controlled by law enforcement agencies, which are unlikely to let any willing person come. The only option is to write appeals and expand information about the crisis, including among potential migrants and in languages they understand.