Some migrants have reported being taken to the EU border by Belarusian authorities, who have urged – or forced – them to cross. They say that these authorities gave them wire cutters to break through fences, helped tear down barricades, and prevented them from returning to the cities.
Playing in European Politics
It is estimated that 4,000 migrants reside in camps on the Polish border, and possibly 10,000 to 20,000 on the Belarusian side. The numbers may not be huge compared to the millions who have fled Syria or the million who have been forced to leave Myanmar, but migration policies are so volatile in Europe that even a small group can raise tensions.
Poland’s ruling right-wing party has long described non-European immigrants as a threat to Polish culture and sovereignty, and its response to the current group has been predictably heated. It described the circumstances as an attack by Belarus, and deployed thousands of troops to drive out the migrants.
In 2015-2016, more than a million people, mostly Syrians, flocked to Europe. The resulting backlash led to support for right-wing nationalists across the continent, and since then, mainstream politicians have been loath to embrace immigration.
Six years ago, some countries, notably Germany, welcomed immigrants, while others, including Poland, refused to accept more than a few years ago, and clashed with EU leaders. But there was no danger that the issue would turn into an armed conflict.
Now, no one is offering to take in immigrants, even as they suffer from life-threatening conditions. The European Union is united behind Poland, which portrays itself as the bloc’s first line of defense, and Warsaw and Minsk exchange ominous threats.
Immigrants, but not necessarily refugees
Many Middle Easterners in Belarus are economic migrants and do not appear to qualify as refugees, although that does not make the danger they face – at least 11 died in the cold – any less realistic.