EU To Send Aid To Migrants At Belarus Border As Winter Sets In- But Is It Enough?

This past Wednesday, the European Union announced that they would send 700,000 euros worth of food, blankets, and other aid to migrants at the Belarus border. Reuters reported that some two thousand migrants are now gathered at the border between Belarus and Poland in what the EU has called an artificial border crisis, constructed by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. As unforgiving winter conditions setting in at the border have exacerbated the need for a humanitarian solution, the EU’s response comes under mounting pressure on its nations to unify on a coherent migration policy. 

In her statement on Wednesday, head of the EU executive Ursula Von Der Leyen claimed “[W]e are ready to do more. But the Belarusian regime must stop luring people and putting their lives at risk.” EU aid is intended to relieve the thousands of migrants suffering from frost and exhaustion, while the Polish government continues to take a hard nationalist stance against allowing migrants across their border. On the same day, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told Polish public radio that “[W]e have to be prepared that this situation on the Belarusian border won’t settle quickly,” making it clear that EU aid was a temporary solution to a much more complex problem. 

At least eight deaths have been reported since the beginning of the crisis in the summer according to Reuters, and proponents for human rights have become increasingly vocal in their criticism regarding how the EU has thus far handled the crisis. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stated “[T]he European Union, a union based on rule of law, should and can do better.” His sentiments were echoed by Human Rights Watch advocate Phillipe Dam, who told Aljazeera that “these people have been manipulated into this scheme. The EU should be questioning how to help them and not just how to respond to Belarus.” 

The slight relief that the aid will provide comes after months of criticism that the EU was not doing enough to help this suffering population of migrants. While aid is certainly a step in the right direction, it’s merely a bandaid to cover up an issue that runs deeper than political tensions between leaders of the EU and Belarus. The exploitation of vulnerable human lives as a means to send a political message should be at the heart of the discussion of the Belarus border crisis, rather than how to best stamp out Lukashenko’s power. The suffering caused by inadequate migration policy is not isolated to the border between Belarus and Poland, and speaks to the desperate need for unification on the behalf of the EU when it comes to asylum seekers. 

In what is considered the biggest border crisis since 2015, thousands of migrants attempted to cross the Belarus-Poland border since July, and now find themselves trapped between two territories that won’t take them in. The issue is believed to be an antagonistic play by the authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko, accused by the EU of sending migrants to the border in retaliation to harsh sanctions imposed upon his government last August. Attempts to resolve the situation also come in the form of sanctions by the EU, despite threats from Belarus to cut off gas supplies to Europe. They target officials believed to be aiding Lukashenko in the movement of migrants toward the border. 

Leaders struggle to resolve this tug of war between the EU and an unwavering Belarusian government. Simultaneously, these men, women, and children who have found themselves in the midst of what Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council calls “some kind of a political crossfire,” continue to pay the price. Ultimately, these migrants are desperate humans who are running away from their home countries to seek hope in Europe that they won’t find elsewhere. It is now the duty of the EU, under international law, to hear these populations out and come together to find a more permanent, peaceful solution that ensures the security of vulnerable peoples moving forward.