Conditions for migrants at the Eastern border between Poland and Belarus are worsening by the day. In the past few months, the area has seen an influx of migrants from the Middle East and Asia as Belarus’ president Aleksandr Lukashenko started allowing more people to fly there. Migrants are flying to Minsk with the hope of ending up in EU member countries like Lithuania or Poland, but those countries are not permitting them to enter. According to European Union leaders, Lukashenko deliberated engineered this migrant crisis in retaliation for sanctions against his government.
Lukashenko uses the migration crisis as a political tactic but does not ensure protection or integration procedure for migrants. Meanwhile, Polish authorities are cracking down on migration particularly hard. Over 15,000 Polish soldiers prevented people from crossing into the country, and authorities constructed a large barbed wire fence to keep migrants out. Over two thousand migrants have been expelled from Poland and are now indefinitely stranded in a forested area called “the border zone.”
The severity of conditions in the forest received global attention on Wednesday, November 10, when a fourteen-year-old Kurdish boy died of hypothermia in a camp on the Belarusian side of the border. People worldwide took to social media to voice outrage and frustration over this, but it soon became apparent that this was just one of many similar incidents. The fourteen-year-old was just one of many people who have died from the cold weather. Corpses, many of them children, lie face down in swamps, and many deaths go unreported. Food is also scarce, and people are increasingly worried about going hungry. The dire nature of the situation has created increasing tension between the migrants and border guards, and migrants have begun throwing objects like rocks and sticks at Polish soldiers and attempting to break down the fence. This tension is cause for concern as it might lead to authorities using violence against the migrants.
Journalists and non-governmental actors are not permitted in the border zone, making it challenging to deliver direct supplies to the migrants. Some migrants communicate via WhatsApp, like a Syrian man who sends voice messages to Al Jazeera. “I see children dying in front of my eyes, and I can’t do anything to help them,” he said. “We are dying here.”
Global humanitarian actors are calling for a resolution to this crisis, and the EU is working to develop new sanctions for Belarus. Yet, the safety of migrants is being overlooked during this long, tense conflict resolution process, which is cause for critical concern. The lack of supplies provided for migrants violates the human rights of asylum seekers and reflects the gap between politicized agendas on migration and actual migrant experiences. Suppose Polish and Belarusian authorities continue to overlook the survival needs of these migrants. In that case, they will be complicit in engineering a migrant crisis and responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people.