A crisis has erupted at the Belarus-Poland border, as thousands of refugees attempt to cross through Belarus into the EU. This follows the Belarusian government’s announcement this June that they would no longer hold back migrants seeking EU entry. The resulting flow of refugees has come up against a heavy-handed approach by Polish authorities. Violent pushbacks have seen migrants beaten and blasted with water canons, as Poland’s ongoing state of emergency restrictions leave journalists and humanitarian aid groups unallowed to enter the border area.
Migrants from a variety of countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, have travelled to Belarus in hopes of entering the EU. Most seek to continue on from Poland to Germany. As it stands, Polish policy is to immediately return those who cross the border back to the other side. However, such an approach of immediate removal stands in the way of the refugees’ right to seek asylum.
Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, has criticised Warsaw’s response after a four-day visit to Poland. They recalled “appalling accounts of extreme suffering from desperate people – among whom many families, children and elderly – who spent weeks or even months in squalid and extreme conditions in the cold and wet woods due to these pushbacks”.
Such sentiments are shared by UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi: “These challenges simply do not justify the knee-jerk reaction we have seen in some places – the irresponsible xenophobic discourse, the walls and barbed wire, the violent push-backs that include the beating of refugees and migrants”.
The European Union has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately creating the crisis. Brussels has labelled the June 2021 decision to no longer hold back migrants an attempt at “hybrid warfare” against the EU. Lukashenko says the responsibility for this crisis does not lie with him, that Belarusian authorities have simply chosen to no longer intervene with migrants to the EU, having considered the context of existing sanctions by Brussels against Belarus. Lukashenko has said, however, that it is “absolutely possible” that Belarusian forces helped refugees to cross the border: “We’re Slavs. We have hearts. Our troops know the migrants are going to Germany”.
The Russian government has announced they are willing to play mediator in negotiations, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Adressing a daily briefing, Peskov argued it would be fundamentally wrong to blame the crisis on Lukashenko, and that western nations were neglecting the humanitarian side of the issue, turning a blind eye to the suffering refugees.
It was also announced this past week that 100 British military engineers would be sent to Poland to help tighten up the border. Discussing the issue, British defence secretary Ben Wallace accused Belarus of attempting to destabilise Europe by encouraging an influx of migrants.
That a British defense secretary would warn of destabilisation is laughable. It is the UK and their NATO allies that are the destabilisers! It is their bombs, their drones and their troops that destablised countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. These refugees would not exist today were it not for western military intervention! Yet it is the very victims of western imperialism who are labelled the enemy, and blamed for this crisis.
Philip English, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham branch