Poland-Belarus Migrant Crisis: A Hybrid Attack

Thousands of people are migrating from the Middle East and Asia into Europe, and the pressure on the European Union – Belarus border is escalating rapidly. The Belarus regime has allowed an increased number of migrants to fly into the country only to funnel them westward. The prime ministers of the Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania accuse the repressive leader Alexander Lukashenko of luring migrants in from the Middle East and forcing them towards the E.U. border to manufacture a European migrant crisis. People have been trapped for months in the cold at the center of the intensifying geopolitical dispute, without water or electricity. By being denied entry to the European Union, many are fearing their new accommodation is just a first step in the deportation process. 

On Sunday, November 21st, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg presented a united front against pressure on their organizations’ eastern borders from Belarus, Reuters reports. At a news conference, the leaders explained how NATO and the EU will be working hand in hand to resolve the situation, stating that this is “a hybrid attack, not a migration crisis.” Von der Leyen further promised that the organizations are stepping up their coordination, cooperation, resilience, and situational awareness. The European Council president, Charles Michel, and Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki both recognize the situation as an arranged attempt to use human beings as weapons. Mr. Michel emphasizes supporting Poland in this serious crisis with the solidarity and unity of the whole European Union. He stated, “It is a hybrid attack, a brutal attack, a violent attack, and a shameful attack.” Poland has stationed thousands of soldiers along the razor wire fence along the border with Belarus, and they also adopted a bill for the construction of a wall along its border. However, humanitarian groups are accusing Poland’s President of violating the international right to asylum by pushing people back instead of accepting their applications for protection. According to Reuters, Lukashenko stated it was the E.U. that deliberately provoked a humanitarian crisis that needed to be resolved.

EU and NATO presenting a united front and emphasizing the importance to defend all allies is a critical step in the right direction. With the EU’s continued political and practical support of its partners, more migrants could get a chance to seek asylum. According to NY Times, the reason the Belarus leader is pushing migrants towards the EU border is to retaliate against sanctions the EU imposed last year after Mr. Lukashenko won re-election. The EU has also agreed on new sanctions in response to the border crisis, which top EU diplomats in Brussels say should be approved and adopted in early December. Von der Leyen said EU nations would stand united to face Lukashenko’s calculated and dangerous actions. However, the most demanding action to be taken is for the autocratic President of Belarus to help the migrants that currently live along the border under inhuman conditions. 

Mr. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, winning the re-election vote last year that international monitors called forged, claiming that the voting was neither free nor fair. After the election, as the President brutally suppressed demonstrations and jailed many of his critics, E.U. imposed sanctions on Belarus. Now, E.U. leaders say, he is using refugees to lash back at them. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who helped Lukashenko ride out mass street protests after last year’s election, has also backed Belarus in its most recent standoff with the E.U. The issue has exacerbated animosity between Russia and the E.U., whose ties have been low since Moscow annexed of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The potential for the migrant crisis to sow disarray in Europe is in line with Putin’s strategy of challenging and undermining the E.U. 

The Belarus-Poland border crisis calls for joint efforts from all nations and organizations involved. Thousands of migrants are hoping to cross the borders into the E.U. member countries Poland or Lithuania and to gain asylum within the bloc. The situation is a reminder of the migration crisis of 2015 when millions of people surged into Europe, nearly tearing apart the European Union. Many members offered asylum to the refugees; others, like Poland and Hungary, wanted no part of it. It is crucial to remember mistakes that have been made in the past to avoid repeated behavior. People are migrating to Europe because they do not have any other choice, and as bordering nations, they must help the migrants to the best of their capability with support from the European Union and NATO. 



Olivia Berntsson