The migrant and refugee crisis at the border between Poland and Belarus threatens to last for months among political tensions, Polish defense minister Mariusz Błaszczak says. According to C.B.S. News, thousands of migrants and refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan flew into Belarus with hopes of getting into the European Union only to be met with sub-freezing temperatures, as well as fire water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets shot by Polish police.
Refugees and migrants are currently living with little to no basic human necessities, including food, water, and heat, despite the dire winter conditions. According to aid workers, many have been hiding in the forests. Eight people are reported to have died, including one unconfirmed child who may have frozen to death, according to Al Jazeera and other publications. While international law says that refugees coming from conflict zones have the right to apply for asylum, aid workers say the Polish authorities are not allowing this to happen.
The Polish government has forbidden aid agencies and the press from entering a 2-mile zone around the border, making it difficult to learn exactly what migrants and refugees are going through and to provide aid. The area has 20,000 security personnel ready to push back people who attempt to cross the razor-lined fence. But Poland and Lithuania both report border crossing attempts as people become more desperate due to winter conditions, Reuters reports.
Belarus has begun to fly back some migrants who want to return to their home countries but are waiting to hear from the European Union on its demand that Germany accepts 2,000 migrants and/or refugees. The E.U. has rejected this demand and Germany has denied it.
Poland, the European Union, and the U.S. accuse Belarus of orchestrating the crisis in a “hybrid war” by luring thousands of migrants and refugees to their country. They state that Belarus weaponized migrants because of economic sanctions the European Union imposed on the country due to a crackdown on dissent, following Belarusian elections that some belief were not democratic.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the actions by Belarus’s authoritarian leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, showed exploitation of vulnerable migrants and aimed to distract from Russia’s activities on the border with Ukraine. However, Russia’s deputy ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told reporters before the U.N. Security Council session that the European Union is portraying Belarus as the instigator of this crisis to shift the fact that they are not allowing migrants into the European Union.
Russia has denied involvement in the standoff, but Lukashenko said on November 16th that he could ask assistance from Vladimir Putin if necessary, C.B.S. News reports.
This crisis has escalated strife between Russia and the E.U., creating tensions reminiscent of when Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. As political tensions increase and more people fall victim to the harsh weather conditions, the humanitarian crisis is bound to have deadly consequences.
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