Poland plans to close the last border crossings with Belarus as migrant crisis continues

Barbed wire fence. Photo by Ed Hinchliffe on Unsplash

Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski announced on the evening of June 22 that the authorities are currently considering closing two operating border crossings on the border with Belarus, writes independent Belarus media outlet Belsat. “Given Belarus's actions, we are considering closing all border crossings,” said Sikorski as reported by Business Insider

According to Sikorski, the government is currently determining “whether this is harmful to the economy.” “The Finns closed the border crossings with Russia, and the problems ended,” added the minister. He did not provide any further details.

As DW reported, Finland saw around 1,300 migrants arrive at its checkpoints with Russia in late 2023. In response, the country indefinitely closed its entire border with Russia in April 2024. 

Dr. Stephen Phillips from the Institut for Human Rights at the Abo Akademi, FInland, wrote in an email to Global Voices: 

I've been following the developments on the Poland–Belarus border. On that border we are seeing now a clear clash between ideas of security and asylum, with the security voices by far the louder. When this security driven approach dominates there is a very real risk that safety of migrants and international law becomes less of a focus, or is sidelined entirely. Like in Finland, the talk in Poland is of instrumentalized migration driven by a hostile foreign state, not of the humanitarian needs of those on the move. This sets a potentially dangerous path away from protection and respect for fundamental rights.

Following the European Union's sanctions on Belarus for a disputed presidential election, thousands of Middle Eastern and African migrants began arriving at Belarus's border with Lithuania in the summer of 2021.

As reported by DW, Poland and the Baltic states accuse Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russia of coordinating this influx, which has escalated into a prolonged border crisis. Border guards from Poland and its neighbors have halted around 150,000 illegal crossing attempts, mostly into Poland. Polish border guard spokesperson Andrzej Juzwiak stated in an interview with DW that the crisis is due to Belarus's actions, creating an artificial migration route. EU officials believe Russia and Belarus are attempting to destabilize the EU, with 90 percent of migrants at Poland's border holding Russian visas.

Meanwhile, as Global Issues reported in April 2024, the migrant crisis at the Belarus–EU border remains dire, with rights groups decrying brutal push backs by border guards on both sides since it began in summer 2021. The repression of NGOs in Belarus has forced many to cease aiding migrants, leaving them with limited humanitarian help. Despite some international organizations providing services, activists fear it is insufficient. Enira Bronitskaya of the Belarusian NGO Human Constanta, now operating from Poland, noted the increased violence and lack of support for refugees due to the criminalization of activism in Belarus.

Additionally, EU border guards in Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania have been accused of violent and inhumane methods against migrants, systematically breaching their rights to claim asylum. Bartek Rumienczyk of the Polish NGO We Are Monitoring (WAM) reported numerous instances of physical abuse and ignored asylum pleas, leaving migrants stranded in terrible conditions between borders. Joanna Ladomirska of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) described this area as a “death zone,” where refugees are trapped between EU fences and Belarusian razor wire, with no access for NGOs to provide necessary aid.

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