The Belarus crisis

Rayan Naseer
Thursday, Jan 27, 2022

As Belarus and Poland argue inexorably and play the blame game, it is obvious that the real victims of the Poland-Belarus border crisis are the more than 2000 migrants stuck in camps at the Polish border as temperatures plummet to below freezing. Several people, including a newborn baby, have died.

Poland claims that the immigrant crisis is a security crisis deliberately orchestrated by Belarus President Lukashenko to destabilise the European Union (EU). Belarus has been facing sanctions from the EU after President Lukashenko’s crackdown on opposition members during his reelection campaign in 2020 and the RyanAir incident where a flight carrying an opposition journalist was forced to land in Belarus after the pilot was warned of an explosion if the flight continued to Lithuania; the journalist was later arrested.

The incident drew a swift response from Western powers. A former Soviet republic, ruled by the last standing dictator in Europe, Belarus responded to the sanctions by encouraging migrants from the Middle East to come to the country on the ‘hunting licence’ and then forcing them across the border into Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, hence the term hybrid warfare – using unconventional, non-military methods to undermine the enemy.

Belarus vehemently denies these allegations and claims to be carrying out repatriation flights to return the migrants to their homelands. Not that this is reassuring news for the migrants. Despite rough, sometimes even violent, treatment from Polish border guards, and tough conditions in camps, very few of them want to return to their homelands. The conditions back home were obviously terrible enough that they are willing to endure freezing temperatures in subhuman conditions and risk their lives to cross barbed wire fences.

Many migrants are from Iraqi Kurdistan, and a forced return home may well jeopardise their lives. Their final destination is usually Germany, in hope of a better future. The sad part is that these desperate people are being used as pawns in a senseless game of one-upmanship between rival powers.

The dozen dead bodies at the border should act as a wakeup call to international humanitarian agencies to intervene and prevent such abuse of a vulnerable populace.

Despite some efforts by the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide the refugees with basic food and medical supplies, the situation remains grim. Poland has adopted the policy of forceful pushback of migrants without considering their circumstances.

This is considered illegal under international law and has been condemned by Amnesty International. Polish President Andrzej Duda explained his country’s nationalistic policy by saying, “We have always been, we are, and we will be part of a Europe based on Christian values, which are also the foundations of our tradition and culture.” Poland has started working on building a $400 million wall along its border with Belarus.

Whoever turns out to be on the right side of history in this power game, it is incumbent upon the UN and other international bodies to not only condemn this attempt at hybrid warfare, but to take practical steps to ensure that such exploitation of desperate humanity to score political points is never allowed again.

The writer is a freelance contributor.