At the border of the European Union, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding again. This time the center of operations is the eastern border, specifically the one that separates Poland, EU member state, and Belarus, country that forms an increasingly iron alliance with Russia. Thousands of people, coming according to their own testimonies from Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, crowd in the Belarusian forests looking for the possibility of crossing into Poland. While Warsaw has displaced thousands of troops to that border to block that entry. This situation threatens to escalate to a major crisis with unpredictable consequences.
Few doubt that Lukashenko is trying to repeat Erdogan’s tactic to revert to being an acceptable interlocutor. Behind the fraud in the 2020 presidential elections and the subsequent harsh repression against Belarusian society, Lukashneko was once again the “last dictator of Europe” as they had called it in the late 1990s. This has pushed Minsk into the arms, or bear hug, of Moscow. However, Lukashneko remains free to act as he pleases on certain issues. For this reason, the Belarusian authorities have been providing visas to people from the Middle East for months, and once in their territory they encourage them, and according to some testimonies they force them to go to the border with the EU to try to cross it through the woods
In total in the forests near the border there are between 1.5 thousand people, according to the Belarusian state media, and 3-4 thousand on the border and a total of 10 thousand migrants throughout Belarus according to the Polish government. They are of different nationalities, although predominantly Kurdish. Among them are women, children and adolescents, although the majority are young men. Their objective, as they declare to the camera and publish on social networks, is get to Germany, while Poland is only a place of passage.
They started arriving in Belarus and attempting to cross in August, and since then their numbers have been increasing. In addition, while until the arrival of the cold they could spend the night without too many problems in the forests with light camping equipment, now the situation is much more difficult and cases of hypothermia occur among them. Given that in the coming weeks temperatures will continue to decrease with the possibility of falling below 0 even during the day, such people’s lives may be under direct threat.
Militarization of the crisis
For its part, Poland has already moved to the border 15 thousand military and several thousand more police, emergency services and patriotic volunteers who owe together prevent the entry of migrants on Polish territory. In addition, for months it has been carrying out a technical effort to strengthen the border by placing fences, barbed wire and the use of cameras, drones and constant patrols. Legitimate measures, which on the other hand raise concerns about a possible military escalation in case either side uses live fire that hits the military on the other side of the border. Poland is a member of NATO, while Belarus is part of a military alliance with Russia.
Poland has already displaced 15,000 soldiers and several thousand more police officers to the border to prevent the entry of migrants
NATO has a strong military presence in the region with several multinational brigades between Poland and the Baltic States, however these units seem poorly indicated to act in a migration crisis. The same goes for the other side. Russia, which does not have its own military bases on Belarusian soil, has shown support. On November 10, Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bombers flew demonstratively near the western Belarusian border escorted by Belarusian fighters.
From Minsk there is talk that Poland can use the pretext of the crisis to organize provocations with the use of force to accuse the Lukashenko regime of the possible consequences. While other voices such as that of the Belarusian opponent Pavel Latushko, who was ambassador to France and Poland and foreign minister, propose even more far-fetched possibilities. Latushko speaks, based on his own sources in Belarusian upper echelons, that former soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan have been trained by the Belarusian and Russian secret services to penetrate Poland and thus provoke a crisis that undermines the unity of the EU vis-à-vis Minsk and Moscow.
Problematic to inform
This whole situation is coupled with the problem of informing on the ground about what really happens. Thus, the Polish government has declared the border a militarized zone and prevents, or tries to, access to this area. Giving situations as bizarre as a local BZ says, who has passed through the area cycling without problems, while the press does not have access. Something worse happens on the Belarusian side, where freedom of the press is nonexistent today and foreign reporters from EU countries cannot work. This gives both parties the possibility to create a information void of what is really happening in the area. Something that, together with the militarization of the crisis, does not bode well, especially for people trapped in the forests thousands of kilometers from their cases as hostages to geopolitical games.