The Poland-Belarus Border Conflict

As instability rises in the Middle East, migrants are looking for different avenues to safety, and one of these avenues is seeking passage through Eastern Europe. On September 2, 2021, The Economist reported a large influx of migrants were crossing into Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia at the direction of the Belarusian government (https://www.economist.com/europe/2021/09/02/europes-latest-migrant-crisis-leaves-refugees-stuck-between-two-borders). Belarus’ dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, not only invited migrants into Belarus by enticing them with direct flights to his country, but he also directed the migrants to illegally cross into Belarus’ neighboring countries. Lukashenko went a step further and utilized his military to prevent the migrants from re-entering Belarus. 

While Lukashenko’s ultimate goal is to retaliate against Europe’s economic sanctions on Belarus, Belarus’ neighboring countries have responded by dispatching their militaries, tightening their asylum laws, and walling off their borders. Specifically, Poland has begun to build a razor wire fence along their border with Belarus, and it is estimated this fence is approximately eight feet high. Consequently, this action has caused a significant migrant population to form at the Poland-Belarus border, and it appears Poland is actively seeking support from the European Union.

Last month, Poland asked the European Union to reimburse it for the costs of its border wall with Belarus (https://www.economist.com/europe/2021/10/30/the-eu-is-being-asked-to-pay-for-border-fences-to-keep-migrants-out). However, relying on its 2015 decision regarding Hungary’s request for funding for a border wall during the Syrian refugee crisis, the European Union denied Poland’s request, stating that border walls were “expensive and ineffective.” Additionally, the European Union explained that erecting a border wall would divert migrants by affecting their legal right to seek asylum. However, even without the European Union’s financial support, countries are forming alliances to financially support one another. For example, the Czech Republic committed €530,000 to help Lithuania finish its border wall project before another influx of migrants arrive. This could indicate States are likely to abandon the European Union’s guidelines and begin to form their own policies.

However, even with these efforts, the influx of migrants has only increased. According to Polish authorities, approximately 17,000 illegal crossing occurred in October alone, and the population is growing each day (https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/11/09/what-is-happening-on-the-poland-belarus-border). Part of Belarus’ tactics is to trap the migrants in “no man’s land,” the tract of land between Poland and Belarus, by sending armed guards to prevent the migrants from re-entering Belarus. As a result, the migrants have begun setting up a tent community along the border as they wait for the European Union, Poland, and Belarus to come to a reasonable resolution.

Having a tent community along the border poses an additional foreseeable risk: the spread of COVID-19. Eastern Europe is already at risk of spreading COVID-19 at it struggles to fully vaccine its population, but there is an even greater risk in allowing unvaccinated migrants within Polish borders. For example, the vaccination rate in Iraq is only 16% while Afghanistan’s vaccination rate is 8.8% (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/covid-19-vaccination-rates-by-country). Poland is currently fighting to maintain its population’s vaccination rate (54%); therefore, there is a foreseeable risk that allowing unvaccinated migrants into Poland could jeopardize the Poland’s overall public health. However, with the upcoming winter months, Poland will need to decide soon on how to handle this migrant crisis. Otherwise, it appears Eastern Europe will continue to see migrants arriving at its doorstep.

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