In recent days, the Polish-Belarus border has seen a wave of activity. Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenka has been helping migrants from North Africa and the Middle East reach the EU’s eastern border. It is thought that this action is in response to the EU helping the political opposition to Lukashenko escape the country.
There are reports of up to 2,000 migrants now at various border crossings into Poland. Most of the migrants are being pushed by Belarussian authorities to the crossing at Kuznica, just northwest of Bialystock. In response, Polish authorities have deployed large numbers of police and military police and according to Poland’s Defence Minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, “about 10,000 soldiers from the 12th, 16th, and 18th divisions” will be stationed near the border to assist local security forces if the need requires. Already two Polish soldiers have been injured after migrants attempted to force their way across the border and as temperatures continue to fall going into winter, the safety of the migrants is being put at risk without proper winter clothing.
In less than a month the Polish government has forced a bill through their parliament, clearly in response to the migrant crisis, which will allow them to construct a wall, similar to Trump’s wall in the States, helping them to secure their eastern border. There was little resistance to the bill as all parties, Eurocentric or Eurosceptic, noticed the importance of securing Europe’s largest external border.
The reasoning for pushing migrants towards the border is unknown. However, Lukashenka is a deeply unpopular president and after a dodgy election back in 2020, many of his political opponents have been fleeing the country, often with the help of Poland and the EU. It is possible that Lukashenka has seen a way to close these illegal crossing points. By pushing thousands of illegal migrants to the border, Belarus is forcing Poland and the EU to shut the crossing points and crackdown on illegal crossings despite EU authorities wanting to help get Belarussian citizens out of the country. Belarussian authorities have commented on the surge of migrants saying there are acting “as a hospitable country” by helping people remain safe whilst moving through their country. There is a fear amongst the Polish government that if the incident escalates then there could be “shots fired and casualties”, as stated by Poland’s Head of National Security Department, Stanislaw Zaryn.
The EU’s response to this has been somewhat lacklustre, seemingly neglecting Poland, even after Germany urged the EU to support Poland and other Eastern EU member states. Lithuania, Poland’s northern neighbour, has reacted to the event in Poland by stationing troops of its own on the border with Belarus in expectation of an influx of migrants. European Commission President, Ursula Von der Leyen, gave a brief statement on the issue but is yet to actually take hard action in supporting Poland to secure its border.
Since the beginning of the incident both countries have claimed the other is breaking international law. International organisations have also commented on the situation condemning the pushing back of refugees and migrants by Polish border forces. Numerous NGO’s have also criticised Belarus for the instrumentalization of migrants to achieve a political goal, especially going into winter when falling temperatures could result in large numbers of deaths among the migrants trapped in the border crossings.
Several migrants that have spoken to various news agencies explained that once they arrived in Minsk their passports, personal documents, and personal belongings were taken by authorities. Many migrants are having to pay extortionate rates to travel companies and human trafficking groups with some paying as much as £17,000. These migrants are often wealthier than the Belarussian people hence why they want to get into the EU. Chants of “Germany!” can be heard among groups of young male migrants wishing to enter and reach Germany known for its welcoming attitude.
The situation will get worse as time goes on. Migrants will become angry and unsettled as more and more people are pressed to the border, and worsening weather conditions may result in deaths. The number of soldiers on the border will likely rise and in the event of shots being fired Belarus or even Russia may use this as an opportunity to take more drastic measures against the EU and NATO.