The European Union (EU), a group of twenty-seven European countries is one of the most influential and powerful unions in the world. Founded in 1993, the union ensures that no more bloody wars break out in the continent and ensures peace and cooperation among its member nations. It comprises some of the most developed economies in the world like Germany and France, which gives it a significant influence in matters related to geopolitics and trade in the world. While the union has faced many challenges in the past, like financial crisis, migrant crisis, covid pandemic (still ongoing), the winter of 2021 has come with its own set of challenges for the EU.
A migrant crisis is developing on the Poland-Belarus border. Nearly 2000 migrants from war-torn countries have gathered near the border trying to enter Europe through Poland. But what explains this sudden migrant crisis? Many believe that this crisis was orchestrated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in retaliation to the sanctions imposed on his country by the EU. Lukashenko, considered to be the last dictator of Europe, won the presidential elections which many believe were rigged. His repeated violation of human rights, crackdown of protesters, and most importantly, the forced landing of Ryan air in Minsk on 23 May 2021 which led to the detention of a journalist compelled the EU to impose sanctions on Belarus. The sanctions include banning EU businesses from importing goods or doing business with Belarusian companies in sectors including banking, petroleum products, and potash, a salt used in fertilizer that is the country’s main export. The sanctions caused a severe hit to the Belarusian economy. Hence, President Lukashenko decided to hurt Europe by orchestrating a migrant crisis.
It is believed that the Belarusian travel agencies and middle-men targeted the migrants from West Asia, by making them believe that they could easily enter Europe by flying to Mink (capital of Belarus) and from there traveling to the border of Poland. These migrants, in hope of a better life, decided to enter Europe through Belarus rather than crossing the Mediterranean sea (a usual way for migrants to enter Europe). These migrants were then abandoned near the Poland- Belarus border. These 2000 migrants, which includes kids and disabled people, are left to freeze in the harsh European winter at the border, with a hope that they’ll be allowed to enter Europe. Migrants have also been a sensitive issue for the EU, which saw an influx of approximately 1 million migrants from war-torn countries like Iraq and Syria enter Europe in 2015. Nearly 10% of the world’s migrants live in Europe.
President Lukashenko knew that a migrant crisis is a great way to retaliate against the sanctions imposed on his country by the EU, as it would cause political chaos among the EU member nations. Many experts call this tactic- ‘weaponizing the migrants’ or a ‘hybrid war’ launched by Belarus. Lukashenko is also threatening Europe to cut off the gas supply to Europe. Russia, the largest supplier of gas to Europe, supplies gas to Poland and Germany through the Yamal Pipeline which passes through Belarus. As winter approaches, Europe needs more supply of gas to keep itself warm, which Belarus is using as a leverage against the EU. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) met to discuss this issue, but the meeting didn’t result in any concrete action. It merely resulted in a showdown between the West and the East, with each side blaming each other for the crisis.
This entire saga again proves that no matter what the problems between the countries are, at the end of the day it’s the common people who suffer. The migrants, who are only seeking a better life for themselves are sadly stuck between a conflict which doesn’t even concern them. They are made to suffer harsh winters near the Poland border and at least seven migrants have died from hypothermia. Their desperation to seek a better life in a developed society is being used as a weapon by an authoritarian regime. Such incidents, time and again, raise the debate of effectiveness and relevance of global bodies which were formed to ensure global cooperation to tackle such issues. Instead, they just end up being a place for member countries to push their interests and agendas. The people in power relevant to this issue must remember that a delay in solving this issue will only lead to more casualties and chaos along the border.
By Nikhilendra Mithanthaya