The migration crisis at the Belarusian-Polish border has worsened in recent days as thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa have tried to enter Polish territory.
Many of them arrive on flights to Belarus: according to the Flightradar24 portal, 21 flights are scheduled for next week from Istanbul to Minsk (the country’s capital), 12 from Dubai and one from Baghdad. Charter flights do not count.
In response, Turkey decided to ban Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis from boarding flights to Belarus, which has supported immigration to the European Union. But the Turkish action should not contain the flow that has turned into a geopolitical crisis at the gates of the European bloc.
For Poland, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Belarus is fabricating and orchestrating the problem, a charge denied by the country’s disputed leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, who has threatened to cut off gas supplies to the country. Europe and has the support of Russian colleague Vladimir Putin.
EU officials say the situation is Belarus’ retaliation for the EU bloc’s sanctions – these measures were imposed after Lukashenko’s crackdown on mass protests, the widely discredited 2020 presidential election, and the arrest of an opposition journalist on a plane that had to land in Minsk. .
Understand below the growing tension in the region at eight points.
1. How did the crisis start?
Since 2020, the Belarus authorities have abolished or simplified visa requirements for 76 countries. Among them are many affected by serious conflicts, such as Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, from which thousands of people are trying to flee.
Travel agencies from Syria, Iraq and Turkey have started selling trips to Belarus to highlight the opportunity for housing and employment in an EU country. Dozens of messages of this type also arrive via WhatsApp, the most used messaging app in the region.
This trip costs between 10,000 and 20,000 USD (about 50,000 R$ to 100,000 R$), depending on the circumstances. According to an investigation by German press agency Deutsche Welle, consulates of Belarus have delegated the right to place their country’s visas in passports to these travel agencies.
In addition, Belarus has significantly increased the number of flights from Middle Eastern countries. Many countries in Europe denounce that even the state authorities are behind these offers promoted by travel agencies.
Migrant women from Middle Eastern countries light a fire to withstand the cold as they try to move from Belarus to Poland on Monday (8) – Photo: Leonid Shiglof/Belta via AP
2. Where do immigrants come from?
Until mid-2021, Iraq was the main starting point. In September, the UN High Representative, Josep Borrell, succeeded in negotiating with the Iraqi authorities to reduce these flights to Belarus.
Currently, Kurds fleeing Syria make up the majority of those trying to enter the European Union along this route. In Syria, they are threatened not only by the Syrian regime, but also by Islamic State fighters.
There are also migrants who come from Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen and from several African countries where there are religious and political conflicts, such as Congo and Ethiopia.
3. How do they get to the border between Belarus and Poland?
Many of the flights are operated by Belavia (a Belarusian airline banned in the European Union due to sanctions), Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways, and another low-cost airline known as flydubai.
Until recently, a refugee visa, if the passenger needed it, was granted at the airport itself when boarding the plane.
At flight gates, it is impossible to distinguish passengers as immigrants or refugees. They have money, all their papers are in order, and their clothes look very similar. So most of the time there is no reason to stop anyone from getting on a plane.
What will happen next is not clear. Videos circulating on social media show that these passengers are being transported in a very organized manner from Minsk airport to the Polish-Lithuanian border.
But until now it has been impossible to determine who organizes these logistics services within Belarus.
4. How do migrants cross the border?
At the beginning of the migration crisis, Polish and Lithuanian border guards let them pass and then sent them to special facilities.
However, at the same time, advisers of both countries began to accuse Belarus of organizing this new phenomenon of immigration.
So, with hundreds and then thousands of people trying to cross the border every day, Poland and Lithuania decided to close the border crossing and began to fortify the area with fences full of barbed wire.
Now the border can only be crossed illegally, but that doesn’t stop many from trying to cross anyway. Some of them tried to climb over the fences erected by the border guards.
Others look for unguarded areas. To give you an idea, the border between Belarus and Poland stretches for more than 400 kilometers and most of it is covered with forests or swamps.
A Polish military helicopter guards a group of migrants trying to enter the country across the Belarus border on Monday (8) – Photo: Leonid Scheglof/Belta via The Associated Press
5. What do the Belarusian border guards do?
Based on dozens of statements made by refugees and migrants themselves and videos published by the Lithuanian and Polish authorities, the Belarus Border Agency directly supports refugees to cross the border illegally.
In an interview with the local newspaper Nasha Niva, an anonymous border agency official described the activities of his department as “a complete devaluation of laws and oaths.”
But the local government refuted this information and the accusations. “Belarus fulfills its greater duty to prevent illegal immigration. The reasons (for this new influx) can be found in the EU countries’ support for “color” revolutions (the term used to describe popular uprisings against certain governments) in regions where lives live. Wars have been destroyed ‘, says the government.
6. Where do the migrants go?
Poland and Lithuania, as well as Belarus, are both transit countries for refugees and migrants. Many of them have their final destination locations such as Germany, France, Austria and the Netherlands, where they usually have family members or acquaintances.
According to the German authorities, at least 5,000 people arrived in Germany via Belarus.
7. Where do refugees and migrants live in Belarus?
The authorities have never reported the exact number of people who have recently arrived in the country. According to Minsk residents, hundreds of people are camped out in shopping centers, underground passages and entrances to apartment buildings throughout the city.
Perhaps for this reason, fearing that the situation will spiral out of control within the country itself, the Belarusian authorities in recent days have tightened the conditions for access to the country.
The most realistic action in the news is that they have stopped issuing visas at the airport to citizens of five countries: Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Yemen.
Migrants from the Middle East in Belarus attempt to breach the fence separating them from Poland on Monday (8) – Photo: Leonid Scheglof/Belta via The Associated Press
8. Is Russia involved in the migration crisis?
Authorities in several EU countries say yes, but have yet to provide evidence. For example, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: “This attack by (Belarusian President) Lukashenko has his mind in Moscow. Mind is President Putin.”
The Russian authorities categorically refute these accusations. The press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov found Moravitsky’s words irresponsible and unacceptable.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on President Putin to intervene in the crisis, a situation the European Union sees as a “mixed attack” aimed at destabilizing the European bloc.
Russia praised its Belarusian ally’s “responsible” handling of the border issue and said it was closely monitoring the situation.
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