Tensions at the border between Poland and Belarus continue to increase. The latest escalation came after Polish authorities said a large groups of individuals were attempting to breach the border between the two countries.
"The situation at the border is difficult. More numerous groups of migrants are led to the border. Attempts are being made to force the border through," Ewelina Szczepańska, the head of the Polish border guard.
What is the crisis?
For years, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees cross into Poland and thus the European Union (EU), from Belarus. But over the past months, the attempted border crossing has increased exponentially. Since August, Poland has seen 30,000 illegal attempted border crossings. The reason behind the change is Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus.
Belarus has been giving visas and offering easy modes of travel, including flying migrants from other countries and parts of Belarus to the Polish border. Here, Belarusian authorities force the migrants to cross over to Poland, and thus the rest of the EU.
Lukashenko, who has often called himself the last dictator in Europe, has been organising a planned campaign of a “refugee crisis” against the EU, in response to the numerous sanctions placed on him. This “politically organised migration” was criticised by Poland and Germany.
“The Poles have reacted correctly so far,” Horst Seehofer, German Interior Minister, told the German newspaper Bild. “We cannot criticise them for securing the EU’s external border with admissible means. The Poles are fulfilling a very important service for the whole of Europe.”
“Poland or Germany can’t handle this alone. We must help the Polish government secure their external border. This would actually be the task of the European Commission. I’m now appealing to them to take action,” he added.
“Belarus must stop putting people’s lives at risk. The instrumentalisation of migrants for political purposes by Belarus is unacceptable,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.
What about the migrants?
The migrants, numbering between 3,000 to 4,000, have gathered at Poland’s Kuźnica border crossing. With temperatures close to freezing and inhospitable forests in the neighbourhood, at least 10 migrants have already succumbed to the elements, reports stated.
The migrants are barred by the Polish border guard, and at the same time they are not allowed back in Belarus, the same country that had transported them to the border in the first place. While reports have emerged of shots being fired, the Poles and Belarusians are blaming each other. More information is hard to come by since Poland has introduced a state of emergency at the border region and non-resident civilians are prohibited from visiting the area.
Most of the migrants are from the Middle East and are fleeing war, famine, poverty and famine. While Poland, in recent years, had taken flak from other members of the EU against its anti-migrant rhetoric, its right-wing ruling party has now secured its core support group with no quarters being given to the migrants at its borders.
What about Lukashenko?
Lukashenko had found himself the target of several new sanctions after his crackdown on the 2020–2021 Belarusian protests. The protests emerged after Lukashenko “won” his sixth term by receiving 60-70 percent of the votes.
The arrest of Belarusian opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega was a turning point as well. The two had been travelling from Athens International Airport, Greece, to Vilnius Airport, Lithuania on Ryanair Flight 4978 when the Belarusian air force scrambled jets and forced the aeroplane to land in Minsk, over a supposed bomb threat. a
While no bomb threat was found, and the warning of the bomb threat was sent after the flight was already diverted, Protasevich and Sapega were taken by the Belarusian authorities. The European Union (EU), NATO, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and other civil aviation agencies across the world strongly criticised the diversion and subsequent arrest and further sanctions were placed on Lukashenko.
Though the sanctions have been severe, Lukashenko’s powerful ally, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has been instrumental in keeping the last dictator of Europe still propped up.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)