The first 2 weeks of November has seen a migrant border crisis go from bad, to worse, to critical. An estimated more than 4,000 people, largely of Middle-Eastern origin, have gathered at the Kuznica border crossing, attempting to pass from Belarus into Poland; they are being turned away. Although similar scenes of migrants converging at state borders, unfortunately, hasn’t been uncommon in recent years, this specific situation has stranger roots. Belarus, along with their close ally Russia, has been accused by the EU of weaponizing these migrants in a bid to attack the West and garner more power for Russia. Yet, in the midst of a decades-old geopolitical argument, the most vulnerable voices threaten to get lost in the conversation.
At the beginning of November, the first migrants arrived at the Kuznica border crossing, escorted by Belarusian authorities. This border crossing was soon closed as increasing numbers of migrants crowded there and was reinforced with thousands of Polish military personnel, making the path into Poland an extremely difficult one. Large groups of migrants, many fleeing the horrors of war and persecution and desperate to find a route to a safer life, were said to be cutting through the fence separating the two nations. Reports of violence towards those gathered at the border have emerged, and around 10 people have already been reported dead. This situation is only escalating as more migrants arrive and those already stuck there become more desperate.
The political dispute flared up almost immediately, with both sides pointing fingers as to who was to blame for the unfolding emergency. Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, whose fraudulent 2020 election saw mass protests sweep the Eastern European Country, is alleged to have organised migrants to be flown into Minsk and then be ushered towards the EU border. Lukashenko could be seeking revenge for the sanctions placed on Belarus by the EU in response to his presidential election controversy by exploiting a sensitive and prescient topic within the EU, hoping to build on increasing internal pressures. There are also suspicions that this may be linked to an even wider, and potentially more troublesome, geopolitical problem: Russia. Belarus is one of the most important allies of the Russian administration. This is no secret as Russian troops engage in joint military training close to the Polish border. This increased Russian military activity has sparked a wave of concern among the West, particularly as Russian troops have also mobilised near the Ukrainian border, raising worries of potential military aggression. This was something Moscow were quick to dismiss and pushed the blame for the ongoing crisis back onto the EU.
As the row continues in politics, thousands of migrants remain literally caught in the middle – and in worsening conditions. Temperatures reach below freezing levels and those at the border, including pregnant women and children, are forced to live in makeshift camps in the forest that offer no protection from the elements. There is limited access to food and no medical care. Polish authorities restricting access to the area has meant that aid workers are unable to reach those in need of help, and the situation is only getting more desperate and more volatile. The Belarusian Government are culpable for employing shameful tactics which exploit migrants in the hope of scoring political points, but Poland and the EU could – and should – be doing more. Instead of offering assistance to the people trapped at the border, who have a right to seek asylum from persecution under article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Polish authorities are turning them away and their Government are doubling-down on unhelpful nationalistic rhetoric. It is important these geopolitical conversations are had, and that further Russian aggression in Ukraine is avoided, but through all this political blame-shifting it is the ones who are most vulnerable in this situation who are getting forgotten and neglected, at the risk of their lives.