Despite freezing conditions and lack of vital supplies, thousands of migrants are stranded along the Belarusian border as Poland denies them entry into the country. Belarus, on the other hand, has refused to take these migrants back even as several have died of hypothermia.
The border crisis that started in August has seen migrants mostly from the Middle East, shepherded by Belarus, gathering at the borders of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. According to a New York Times report last week, at least 4,000 men, women and children remained trapped between Belarus and its neighbouring countries in the freezing cold, without proper shelter or toilets.
The Belarusian push
Migration attempts into the European Union from Belarus have surged in recent years with Poland witnessing 30,000 illegal attempted border crossings since August this year. The recent surge is in response to the sanctions imposed by the EU, following the stolen election and repression of domestic dissent by Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus.
Lukashenka has responded to the sanctions by pushing waves of migrants from the Middle East to the borders to cross into the EU. This strategy is a form of hybrid warfare, a tactic first used by Russia against the Nordic states in 2015.
What is hybrid warfare?
Hybrid warfare is a strategy aimed at destabilising EU borders by stirring up tensions within member states and allies.
In 2015, when migrants descended over the Greek-Macedonian border, some EU members offered asylum to refugees. But this time, European officials have agreed to defend their borders from uncontrolled immigration.
This is because Europeans believe the border crisis is manufactured by Lukashenko.
After a meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, described the crisis at the Belarus border as “a hybrid attack, not a migration crisis.”
The migrants’ rough stay at the borders creates a moral dilemma for Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. While the Polish government deployed 12,000 troops in the border region last week, Latvia and Lithuania are building a razor-wire fence on their border with Belarus.
This move has been criticised by propagandists who have likened this fence to Donald Trump’s wall.
Is Russia behind the border crisis?
Russia is a key ally of Belarus. Poland and EU have accused Russia of spearheading the artificial flow of migrants from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan onto European borders.
In a recent statement, US state department spokesman Ned Price said, “The actions by the Lukashenka regime threaten security, sow division, and aim to distract from Russia’s activities on the border with Ukraine.”
British foreign secretary Liz Truss echoed similar sentiments, saying, Russia bears “clear responsibility” for the current standoff at the border.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected the accusations and said, “We have absolutely nothing to do with this, just absolutely. It’s just a desire to transfer problems from a sick head to a healthy one.”
"We are ready to help it by all means if of course, anything would depend on us," Putin was quoted as saying by Reuters.
The worsening condition
While Poland is concerned about the migrant situation, the EU is planning to impose additional sanctions against Belarus to curb the crisis. “Beginning of next week, we will very quickly expand our sanctions against Belarus,” Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on November 10.
Meanwhile, conditions at the border forests where the migrants have camped continue to worsen. People have little to eat or drink, Barwa Nusreddine Ahmed, brother of an Iraqi migrant who was at the border with his family last month, told BBC.
"People know they're being used , but they have no future," Ahmed told BBC.
(Edited by : Kanishka Sarkar)