Playing With Lives: The Migrant Crisis at The Belarus-Polish Border

Published November 20th, 2021 - 07:13 GMT
On the Polish-Belarus border
A group of migrants moves along the Belarusian-Polish border toward a camp to join those gathered at the spot and aiming to enter EU member Poland, in the Hrodna region on November 12. (AFP File Photo)

You may feel sorry for the migrants on the Belarus-Polish border who are stuck in a ‘never-never’ land of freezing limbo. They have sold all their belongings in their home countries in search of a dream life that today is as far away as possible.

The thousands on the border has become a human tragedy and crisis that sees no end in sight but is making profiteers out of travel agents, airlines and taxi drivers on the one hand and angry states on the other. Those who seek political capital of a human mass who are now at a territorial crossroads.

First The Migrants

Men, women, husbands, wives and their siblings uprooted themselves and brought plane tickets to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. These migrants are - a situation built up from at least last Spring - Iraqis, Kurds, Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenis and Afghanis. They are landing in Belarus through airports in Baghdad, Beirut, Dubai and Istanbul.

In Minsk they are transported to the bushy, green land forested border with Poland. Widespread media reports say these migrants - and at a hefty dollar price - are helped by the Belarus authorities. This might be a nod and wink although witnesses say the authorities give them axes and cutting tools to make their way through the barb-wired Polish border, and from there on, to the rest of the European states.

That was supposed to be the case at least in theory. The practice was - and is today - much different for the thousands who have came to congregate on the ‘nerverland’ of the Belarus-polish border, not in shelters but open forests, in temperatures that dip far below zero. There is about 1000 children amongst the men and women who are conservatively estimated to be at least 6000. Up till now 11 have died and a one-year-old baby froze to death. That’s just one side.

The Blockers 

The ‘blockers’ are the Polish border guards who have been beefed up to from Warsaw to seal the border and send back any of the migrants who try to enter their territory as a gateway to Europe which they have been doing. There are at least 12,000 Polish soldiers on the border and thousands of policemen.

The Polish authorities, who are backed by the European Commission in Brussels maintain that Belarus has no right to ‘herd’ the migrants to the border and force-hand the Poles and the Europeans into accepting regardless of the fact that international law states asylum seekers have the right to enter an area or territory even under such conditions.

But up till now this is being disregarded by the Europeans who say the Belarus authorities want to ‘mop’ Europe with migrants because the EU has imposed sanctions on its president Alexander Lukashenko who allegedly rigged the elections in May 2020 for another long-winded term in power.

Negotiations and deliberations are presently going on about what to do with the migrants. However, while the Poles and the EU continue their firm grip, the Belarus authorities are seeking to show an element of flexibility. The Europeans through Angela Merkel have made two phone calls to Lukashenko to try to find a away to diffuse the border crisis and the migrant situation a lot of whom say want to start a new life in Germany.

Lukashenko is pleased about that since Markel is the first western leader to talk to him after the elections claim but there is a degree of fake news and misinformation. No, Germany will not take some - about 2500 - of the migrants as the Belarus presidency openly claims.

Cold and hunger

On the issue of the migrants however, they have been moved into sheltered accommodation after weeks being in the wild and of cold and hunger. Today there are reports of them being fed and given hot drinks. But up till now nobody knows how long this situation will continue. Reports also suggest they are being told by the authorities they can stay put for as long as they like or at least till a solution can be found with regards to European migration issues, especially from Germany.

However, two things are refocusing. First the international dimension involving the United States and Russia. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken solely blames Belarus for the border crisis and is firmly with the European stand. Vladimir Putin, a Lukashenko ally, is offering his input on how to get out of the migrant/refugees predicament and he may have persuaded Merkel to directly talk to the Belarus president.

The second dimension is coming from Iraq. Since a large number of the refugees are Iraqis the Baghdad government has started a direct airlift from Minsk to the Iraqi capital and/or Kurdish areas in the northern parts of the country. While some have already taken this offering, other Iraqis are biding their time. They don’t want to go back to what they call as the unemployment and poverty they left behind.

The crisis on the border will not end overnight. Poland itself is expecting a long haul. Their is too much at stake for everyone - the parties who brought the asylum seekers, the states who appear to be fighting amongst one another and the migrants themselves who sold everything to get this far.

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