Yesterday, forces from Poland were seen using water cannons against hundreds of migrants on the border with Belarus, after reportedly having stones thrown at them. The use of force is the latest escalation in what has become a political border crisis. We’re taking a look at how the tensions have escalated.
How did we get here?
There are approximately 3,000 to 4,000 migrants currently near the Poland and Belarus border, with more than 10,000 people in Belarus who are attempting to cross the border. However, Poland has blocked hundreds of migrants from entering the country. In September, as a result of the ongoing tensions on the border, a state of emergency was declared in Poland.
Earlier this month, video footage of the area showed individuals attempting to breach a barbed-wire border fence with items such as spades. The migrants are predominantly from war-torn nations like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan after the Belarusian Government changed visa rules that allows easier access to the European Union (EU). While Belarus is not in the EU, Poland is.
However, the EU has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of retaliating against long-time sanctions imposed on Belarus, by encouraging the migrants to enter the EU via Poland. Belarus denies these claims. According to the New York Times, migrants were reportedly provided with instructions from Belarusian forces to cross the border, as well as provided with tools to break down border fences.
The EU responds
The EU has been supportive of Poland’s tough stance on the situation, and endorsed Poland’s deployment of riot police and troops. The EU has put additional pressure on airlines to stop transporting migrants to the border. The Iraqi Government also told its civilians to stay in Belarus, and for any migrants who are at the border to retreat.
Poland, however, has received ongoing criticism for not allowing the migrants to seek asylum.
Charities and organisations have noted the freezing weather conditions and a lack of food and medical attention at the border. Several migrants have been found dead at the border, with further deaths reported in Belarus.