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[Sansad TV] Perspective: Belarus Migrant Crisis

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Context

The situation at Europe’s eastern border with Belarus has been in focus for quite some time now.  Thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East have flocked to Belarus to try to enter Europe through neighboring EU member states Poland, Latvia or Lithuania.

The European Commission has accused Belarus of luring migrants to Minsk with the false promise of easy entry to the EU.

Where have the migrants come from?

  • The main country of origin for migrants detected crossing the bloc’s eastern land borders so far this year is Iraq.
  • There are smaller numbers from Afghanistan and Syria, as well as other countries.
  • The vast majority of them arrived in Minsk – the capital of Belarus – by air, and then travelled overland to the borders of EU states including Poland and Lithuania.

What are the accusations against Belarus?

  • The European Commission has accused Belarus of luring migrants to Minsk with the false promise of easy entry to the EU.
  • Upon arrival they are being pushed to the borders of neighboring countries.
  • Poland and Lithuania have for some months accused the authorities in Belarus of orchestrating the arrival of migrants.

What happens to migrants that get across?

  • The Polish border guard service says there have been 33,000 attempts to cross the border illegally so far this year, with 17,000 in October alone.
  • They get apprehended for illegally crossing the borders according to authorities there.
  • International law states that anyone seeking protection must be given access to the asylum process.

A classic example: Coercive Migration Diplomacy

  • Here, cross-border mobility is being employed as “weapons of mass migration”.
  • Belarus is inviting migrants and compelling them to enter neighboring countries.
  • Therefore this entire issue is termed as a geopolitical crisis.

What causes trans-national migration?

  • Escaping hardship, conflict, and persecution
  • Seeking a better life
  • Displacement because of environmental factors
  • Economic reasons: Employment, remittances

Issues with Migration

  • Sovereignty threat: Migration of people from one country to another poses a formidable threat to both the territorial as well as demographic jurisdiction of a country.
  • Demographic threat: The identity of the trans-border migrants in an alien land triggers crucial issues related to national identity, political membership, and citizenship—all being defined within the binary of what is “legal” and what is not.
  • Security threat: Therefore, cross-border migration makes nation states paranoid—defined as they are by territory—about their security and identity.
  • Diplomatic threat: The cross-border flow of people creates more serious foreign policy crisis when the host country views the influx of people into its territory as a result of “coercively engineered migration” perpetrated by the sending state.
  • Economic threat: The presence of migrants exerts great pressure on the economic resources of the host country and creates crisis for local population.
  • Law and Order threats: Moreover, migrants are often regarded as “destitute”, “impoverished”, and “resource starved”; this makes them vulnerable to suspicions from among the local people.  

Protecting Refugees: The 1951 Refugee Convention

  • The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol are the key legal documents that form the basis of our work.
  • With 149 State parties to either or both, they define the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of refugees, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.
  • The core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.
  • This is now considered a rule of customary international law.

UNHCR serves as the ‘guardian’ of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol. According to the legislation, States are expected to cooperate with us in ensuring that the rights of refugees are respected and protected.

Way forward

Asylum is a human right. States must show solidarity and compassion for asylum seekers since no human life is illegal. Amnesty International has put forward some solutions for how the world can start tackling this massive humanitarian crisis together.

  • Safer transition: Opening up safe routes to sanctuary for refugees is one important solution.  
  • Resettlement: This is a vital solution for the most vulnerable refugees – including torture survivors and people with serious medical problems.
  • Stopping persecution: States can stop persecution by investing in search and rescue operations and immediately helping people in distress.
  • Expatriation: People fleeing persecution or wars should be allowed to cross borders, with or without travel documents.
  • Safety: All countries should investigate and prosecute trafficking gangs who exploit refugees and migrants, and put people’s safety above all else.
  • Doing away with discrimination: Governments also need to stop blaming refugees and migrants for economic and social problems, and instead combat all kinds of xenophobia and racial discrimination.

Conclusion

  • The internal discontent within Europe needs to be resolved especially the tensions rising on the Polish border and controversial allegations of Russia’s involvement.
  • It is envisaged that the ongoing crisis surrounding migration is unlikely to get resolved as Europe has an ageing population and it is in need of skilled labor.
  • This makes it inevitable that there will be a migration of people.
  • This adds to the permanent feature of globalization and business cannot perform without the mobility of people.
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