Poland reinforces border with Belarus as migrant crisis escalates

The standoff on the Polish border with Belarus, November 8, 2021. Screenshot from video by RFE/RL/Polish Defense Ministry.

The standoff on the Polish border with Belarus, November 8, 2021. Screenshot from video by RFE/RL/Polish Defense Ministry.

Polish authorities have accused Belarus of an “attack” on its eastern border and of orchestrating a “migration crisis”. The accusations come as an increasing number of migrants from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa have been gathering at the border between the two countries and attempting to gain entry into Poland, as well as Lithuania and Latvia.

On November 8, the Polish government posted videos online allegedly capturing several attempts by groups of migrants to break through the razor wire fencing on the border, according to RFE/RL.

Following the escalation, Poland convened an emergency session of the parliament, where officials condemned the actions of the Belarusian state and border forces. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Belarus’ actions have “a mastermind in Moscow” and blamed Russia's President Vladimir Putin for supporting Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

“The Belarusian regime is attacking the Polish border, the EU, in an unparalleled manner”, Polish President Andrzej Duda said at a news conference in Warsaw on November 9.

We currently have a camp of migrants who are blocked from the Belarusian side. There are about 1,000 people there, mostly young men. These are aggressive actions that we must repel, fulfilling our obligations as a member of the European Union.

The EU had previously accused Lukashenka of flying in migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia and bringing them to the EU's borders through Belarus as a transit zone to retaliate against the sanctions imposed by European leaders over the authorities’ brutal crackdown since last year’s disputed presidential election.

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reacted to the latest escalation on Twitter, saying the crisis in Belarus was now impacting other countries around the world.

Thousands of migrants remain on the Belarus-Poland border, experiencing freezing cold temperatures, with little food, water or warm clothes. Though they are blocked from entering Poland, they also cannot return to Belarus, as Belarusian border guards prevent them from entering back into the country. A Polish special services spokesperson also accused Belarusian border patrols of “helping migrants to destroy the border barriers”.

The Belarusian Ministry of Defense has called the Polish accusations “unfounded” and has denied manufacturing the migrant crisis.  Lukashenka's government instead has accused Poland and the rest of the EU of violating human rights by refusing to let the migrants apply for asylum.

On November 9, Lithuania declared a state of emergency at its border with Belarus and at the location of the camps hosting migrants who arrived from there. Earlier in September 2021, Poland became the first EU country to declare a state of emergency on the territory of Podlaskie and Lubelskie voivodeships, citing “threat to citizens and public order”. As part of the emergency measures, Poland has increased the number of soldiers and guards at the border with Belarus to 20,000. Polish lawmakers have also approved the construction of a $407-million wall on its eastern border.

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