From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Global illegal migrants crisis
Thousands of migrants have flocked to Belarus’ border with Poland, hoping to get to Western Europe.
Background of the crisis
- Belarus was rocked by months of massive protests following the August 2020 election that gave authoritarian President Lukashenko a sixth term in office.
- The opposition and the West rejected the result.
- Belarusian authorities responded to the demonstrations with a fierce crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
- The European Union and the US reacted by imposing sanctions on Lukashenko’s government.
- The restrictions were toughened after an incident when a passenger jet flying from Greece to Lithuania was diverted by Belarus to Minsk, where authorities arrested a dissident journalist.
- The EU called it air piracy and barred Belarusian carriers from its skies.
- It cut imports of the country’s top commodities, including petroleum products and potash, an ingredient in fertilizer.
Infused by migration
- The EU sanctions deprived Lukashenko government of funds needed to contain flows of migrants.
- Planes carrying migrants from Iraq, Syria and other countries began arriving in Belarus, and they soon headed for the borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
- Belarus is estimated to host between 5,000 and 20,000 migrants from the Middle East and Africa.
- Many have run out of money and grown increasingly desperate as the winter approaches.
- Belarusian residents are uneasy about their presence, raising pressure on the authorities to act.
Reservations by EU
- The EU accused Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns in a “hybrid attack” against the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for the sanctions.
- Lukashenko denies the flow of migrants and said the EU is violating migrants’ rights by denying them safe passage.
What has been the response by EU countries?
- Lithuania introduced a state of emergency to deal with small groups of migrants and strengthen its border with Belarus.
- It set up tent camps to accommodate the growing number of migrants.
- Polish authorities prevented hundreds of attempts by migrants to cross reporting many deaths.
- The EU has made a strong show of solidarity with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
What is Russia’s role?
- Belarus has received strong support from its main ally, Russia, which has helped rise Lukashenko’s government with loans and political support.
- Russia considers the migrant flows resulting from the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Western-backed Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.
- It challenged the EU to offer financial assistance to Belarus to deal with the influx.
- At the same time, the Kremlin angrily rejected Poland’s claim that Russia bears responsibility for the crisis.