What next for the Poland-Belarus border crisis?

Polish authorities accuse Belarus of 'changing tactics' in ongoing border crisis
3 min read
26 November, 2021
There were signs in the past fortnight that the Poland-Belarus border crisis had subsided but Poland has now accused its eastern neighbour of changing tactics to encourage refugees to cross the border.
Poland has continued to report refugee crossings from Belarus and accuses the country of simply changing tactics [Getty]

The Polish Border Guard reported three new attempts by refugees on Wednesday to cross the Poland-Belarus border near the village of Dubicze Cerkiewne.

There were signs in the past fortnight that the Poland-Belarus border crisis had subsided after the makeshift border refugee camp was dispersed and moved to a nearby warehouse. 

Last week, Iraq repatriated about 400 citizens – mostly from the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq – who had been stranded at the Belarusian-Polish border for weeks. On Monday, hundreds of refugees were flown out on deportation flights from Belarus’ national airport in Minsk back to their home countries.

Changing tactics

However, Poland has continued to report refugee crossings from Belarus and accuses its neighbour of simply changing tactics by directing smaller groups of people to various locations on the border, which also marks the eastern frontier of the European Union. Human rights groups have condemned the appalling treatment of refugees who remain stranded on both sides of the Poland-Belarus border.

On Tuesday, Polish authorities reported 267 attempts to cross the border from Belarus. Although the number of refugees camped on the border has fallen, the countries remain at loggerheads with Warsaw insisting that the situation remains unresolved.

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Thousands of refugees – mostly from the Middle East – have been attempting to cross into the EU via Belarus for weeks. The EU has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of manufacturing the crisis to destabilise the continental bloc in retaliation for EU sanctions on his authoritarian government.

On Tuesday, EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen reiterated the EU was standing in solidarity with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 26-page report blaming both Poland and Belarus for the crisis, and accusing both of having little or no regard for the safety and welfare of refugees.

“While Belarus manufactured this situation without regard for the human consequences, Poland shares responsibility for the acute suffering in the border area,” said Lydia Gall, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Too far, war is unavoidable”

While refugee crossings have fallen, most refugees are refusing to leave the border or to board repatriation flights.

Lukashenko has so far refused to compromise, threatening to escalate the crisis further by cutting gas supplies from Russia if the EU did not lift sanctions on Belarus.

On Monday, he warned the EU that if the situation deteriorates “too far, war is unavoidable” according to Belarus' BELTA state news agency.

For their part, Poland have insisted they will not give in to blackmail. President Lukashenko has proposed that the EU take in 2000 migrants in return for Belarus persuading another 5,000 to return home, however Germany has said such a deal was not on the table.