The 2021 EU-Belarus Border Crisis

As long as the EU incentivises countries to keep migrants out, leaders like Lukashenko will find ways to exploit them
The 2021 EU-Belarus Border Crisis
"Europe has been dealing with migrants from the Middle East and North Africa; the majority enter Europe via Turkey, while others travel by boat from North Africa."Google Maps [Screengrab]

The border crisis between Poland and Belarus has been going on for over a month and it shows no signs of stopping. The situation has been one of the largest humanitarian crises in 2021. It all started with the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko winning the election for the sixth time in a row, an election that many considered as rigged just like his previous ones but this time there were massive protests across Belarus demanding for him to resign.

Lukashenko has been ruling Belarus with Russian support since 1994 and has been widely regarded as Europe’s last dictator. After massive protests, the Lukashenko government arrested thousands of protesters and held them in prisons across the country. During this brutal crackdown, at least 3 people were killed and over 20000 political prisoners were detained including his main opponent Sviatlana Tsikanouskaya. She was later taken by government forces and sent to Lithuania through the border.

This was the moment when the European Union intervened, imposed sanctions and from this point, this squabble between Lukashenko and the EU increased. After the first round of sanctions, Lukashenko continued his brutal policies arresting more and more people and further curtailing human rights and freedom after which the European Union (EU) struck with two more rounds of sanctions on the Belarusian government officials that included travel and economic bans.

On 23rd May 2021, a flight took off from Athens and was intercepted in the Belarusian air space and made to land. On this flight, a prominent Belarusian opposition journalist was traveling and he was immediately arrested by the Belarusian authorities and they forced him to admit to plotting riots after which the US, UK, and EU slapped the Belarusian government with further sanctions, this time even more stringent. To get out of this problem Lukashenko managed to create a problem near the Poland border.

Europe has been dealing with migrants from the Middle East and North Africa; the majority enter Europe via Turkey, while others travel by boat from North Africa. Before the occurrence of this huge disaster, the Belarusian government was hatching a nefarious plot against the EU.

Thousands of Iraqi residents, particularly Kurds and Yazidis, have been granted tourists visas by the Belarusian government. They were brought by Belarusian national airline Belavia to Belarus and were taken over to various camps by the Belarusian police. From there on Belarusian authorities started pushing these migrants towards the border of Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland.

The migrants were promised that the borders were open for crossing, but after they arrived, they discovered that they were closed. The Belarusian government planned for these migrants to infiltrate neighbouring countries in order to keep a deal between the EU and Belarus alive. Because Poland and other nations refused to allow these migrants to travel, they returned to Belarus, where the turmoil began.

These migrants were forced back towards the border by Belarusian police, who were denied entry by Polish border guards. Around 5000 migrants were stranded in this limited space. Belarusian authorities have been observed arming migrants with razor cutters and other equipment in preparation for their crossing into Poland, where Polish border guards are using tear gas and water cannon to frighten them away.

These migrants were forced back towards the border by Belarusian police, who were denied entry by Polish border guards. When the situation became out of control the European Union punished the Belarusian government with more sanctions if previous ones were enough.

The second issue arose when migrants tried to return to their home countries but were told that their tourist permits had expired. Belarus was later accused of employing migrants as a form of hybrid warfare by the European Union. To put the situation under control, the three countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland all declared states of emergency. Many multinational airlines were afterward ordered by the European Union (EU) to cancel flights to Belarus.

All of this devolved into a hazardous game between the EU and Belarus, which led to the weaponization of migrants fleeing war-torn countries like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. This was linked to a number of things, one of which is the new surge of migrants who have arrived on European land. Following the Arab Spring in 2011 and subsequent civil wars in many Middle Eastern countries, a massive influx of people sought to exit the war-torn countries, with Europe being the best option.

The majority of those escaping traveled through Turkey, while some took boat voyages to reach the Italian coasts. As the number of migrants climbed year after year until it peaked in 2016, the European Union devised a new plan to stem the flow. It began paying countries to halt the influx of refugees and detain them in exchange for payment.

It appeared to be a good approach at first since the number of migrants entering Europe reduced dramatically until it backfired. Turkey received more than $6 billion to keep refugees out, but as events evolved, it became a tool for middle eastern countries to blackmail the EU.

These countries put immense pressure on the EU to pay them more and more money, or else refugees imprisoned at their borders will be transferred to the EU. This provided the foundation for Lukashenko’s government’s current hybrid warfare.

The goal of keeping refugees off European land became a political instrument for many countries, which they might use to get more funds from the European Union at any time. As long as the EU incentivises countries to keep migrants out, leaders like Lukashenko will find ways to exploit them, and scenarios like the one near the Poland-Belarus border will continue to occur.

The Belarusian government has evacuated numerous migrants from the border to warehouses and provided them with some basic assistance under pressure from the European Union, but the Lukashnshevo continues to incite migrants to move over towards the west and enter the EU.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

Greater Kashmir
www.greaterkashmir.com