The Belarus border crisis has become increasingly urgent with the beginning of winter, as migrants are no longer able to survive outside. Belarus has made recent attempts to clear the border by transferring migrants to a warehouse close by, where they have been photographed huddling together and sleeping on mattresses, as well as facilitating flights back to home countries (mainly Iraq). According to Reuters, Belarus also has asked the EU to accept 2,000 out of around 5,000 migrants, which the EU refused. The U.S. also made accusations that Belarus is weaponizing the illegal travel of migrants as a pawn in its international affairs. By attempting to force migrants to cross into the EU, Belarus places intense pressure on the economic and social resources of member states. This issue is an extreme threat to international migration and the process of seeking asylum, and the fact that migrants’ lives are continuously put in danger because of the ongoing unstable relationship between the East and the West is unacceptable.
On November 21st, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted, “Lukashenka launched a hybrid war against the EU. This is the greatest attempt to destabilize the EU in 30 years. [Poland] will not yield to blackmail and will do everything to defend the EU’s borders. PL, LT, LV, EST need support. We must stand together to defend Europe.” The reference to the Cold War era in this tweet is indicative of the East-West relationship that is implied in this conflict. While it is evident that Poland is not particularly gracious toward people deemed ‘outsiders,’ the fact remains that using human beings to make a point of destabilizing and delegitimizing the EU is not respectful to migrants or effective in international relations.
This conflict began to take root over the summer, at which point Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia did not have the resources to accept such an influx of migrants, and that has not changed in the months since. What was unfair to migrants then has only been exacerbated: the lack of security in not knowing where migrants will be able to settle is traumatizing and life-threatening. The clearance of the border was seen as a step in helping the crisis subside, but the international community must not be rash to accept this: neither the transfer of migrants into the warehouse or back to their home countries is a legitimate step in resolving this crisis. Although migrants have been moved around, illegal travel into the EU, particularly Poland, continues — and the relationship between EU member states and Belarus is just as tense (if not more).
Ultimately it is most important to consider the toll this takes on migrants and the general relationship between states in the international community. Migrants that arrive in Belarus frequently want to use it as a bridge to living in the EU, but — as mentioned before — the way Belarus facilitates their illegal travel is meant only to take jabs at the EU and member states. Migrants spend thousands of dollars to fly into Belarus, and are then forced to cross the border, but are turned away and sent back to Belarus, as reported by Reuters. Over the summer, the EU decided to place sanctions on Belarus to force the conflict to subside, which did not work. Therefore, it is best for the international community to recognize that sanctions are neither an effective short-term nor long-term solution.
Thus, Belarus must work with EU member states to determine what comes next for the migrants that have already traveled into Belarus and those that have made the trip into the EU to ensure that they are granted proper asylum. While this is perhaps unrealistic for the near future, it is the only productive solution. Once that is established, it should be made clear that Belarus is not a haven in which migrants can find asylum, since it is probably more advantageous to migrants to know before extensive traveling what exactly that will and will not consist of.
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