Since July of 2021, Belarus has sent thousands of migrants to areas boarding its neighbouring country, Poland, in an attempt to antagonize the European Union into altering the sanctions placed on Belarusian officials. In the past the Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko has used Belarus’ security forces and border control to sway the EU into accepting policies that support Belarus and its current regime. The transportation of migrants came after Lukashenko’s regime began to lose power after the opposition campaign, led by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, ousted him by uniting opposition parties under a desire for democratic change and opposition to political corruption.
During the August 2020 election in Belarus, Tikhanovskaya won 80% of the vote. Regardless, Lukashenko declared victory, halted protests, and forced his opponent into exile. This clear indication of corruption resulted in the EU taking coercive action against Lukashenko’s regime by applying new, restrictive sanctions. Thus, on the 15th of November, European Union Foreign ministers passed a vote to monitor the airlines and travel agents allegedly involved in transporting migrants to the Polish, Latvian, and Lithuanian borders in an attempt to end Belarus’s “instrumentalization” of its migrants.
The EU has accused Alexander Lukashenko of flying migrants to the Belarus-Poland border where they’d seek to enter the European Union’s territory, placing pressure on resources and border control. Joseph Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief stated, “Today’s decision reflects the determination by the European Union to stand up to the instrumentalization of migrants for political purposes. We are pushing back on this inhuman and illegal practice.” Officials representing Minsk, the capital of Belarus, have repeatedly denied the EU’s accusations, claiming that Officials in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, were deliberately escalating tensions and wanting to excuse their unwillingness to provide sanctuary to migrants. President Lukashenko has threatened to cut off natural gas flows from Russia to Europe if the EU continued to impose further invasive sanctions, however, Russian officials have distanced themselves from this threat and have not supported the ultimatum.
At the border, nine have already died from being exposed to the elements. Others have remained in dire conditions after being refused sanctuary from either side. A correspondent of Germany’s information programme, DW News, has stated that the death toll will continue to rise as conditions worsen, and the temperature in the region continues to drop. There are currently between 4,000-7,000 migrants situated at the border. These numbers continue to grow as Belarusian forces continue to bring more people to the border. Many migrants came to Belarus when visa rules were relaxed in August, providing a faster, safer way to cross the EU border. The New York Times has also reported that Belarusian security forces supplied migrants with wire cutters and axes to help them cross the border more easily. The ability of journalists and aid workers to report on the conditions at the border is impacted by Poland’s state of emergency which bars many journalists and aid workers from accessing the area and providing support. The use of migrants as a political tool is a deeply flawed response. The EU needs to continue to place pressure on Lukashenko’s regime to end the displacement of migrants and provide a proper place of sanctuary for them.