EU on brink as Belarus creating migrant ‘superhighway’ along border to damage bloc
Belarus-Poland: Polish troops use water cannons at border
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Hundreds of migrants remain trapped at the border between Belarus and Poland. Many have fled war-torn countries and persecution, hoping to secure asylum in a country and carve out a better life for themselves and their families. Their attempts, EU officials claim, have been harnessed by President Alexander Lukashenko, who has politicised the border and offered hundreds, if not thousands, of desperate people false hope in a bid to hurt the West.
Since this summer, thousands of migrants have piled on to the EU’s eastern frontier hoping to enter the bloc.
Early reports suggested that Mr Lukashenko’s forces were actively helping the migrants cross the densely forested area between Belarus and Poland.
As the crisis worsened, Mr Lukashenko himself admitted during an interview with the BBC that it was “absolutely possible” his troops may have helped migrants into the EU.
He said that he would not detain or hold migrants at the border, later visiting the border in person he told a crowd of migrants that it was “up to” them to “go through” into the EU.
The bloc and many western nations, including the US and the UK, have since hit Belarus with coordinated sanctions, with hardline EU member states this week pressing Brussels to water down protection for asylum seekers in a bid to dissuade more people from crossing.
Regardless of their actions, many believe that the events witnessed in Belarus are a brief glimpse into what the future may hold for Europe and the west: volatile states using their borders as a means of leverage.
Professor Matthew Longo, a political scientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said Mr Lukashenko is actively transforming his border into a migrant “superhighway”, and would likely continue to do so.
Noting how many countries around Europe have become buffer states — in this context, a country soaking up migrants from elsewhere around the world — he told Express.co.uk: “In strategic terms, you’d love it if the enemy never gets to your border because someone else has soaked up that harm.
“In the US the border has always been north Mexico, and for Europe it’s always been North Africa and the Eastern European states, particularly the former soviet states like Belarus and Ukraine.
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“The cynical view says we have been using borders as a way to hurt states forever.
“We’ve loved the fact that these places that we frankly don’t care about have to deal with the problem of migration, and ideally stop migration from getting to us.
“It’s not remotely weird that an inspired autocrat would basically say, ‘F*** you to the west, no, you’re going to play this game too. If you’re going to make this into a buffer zone, let’s flip the metaphor and say that now, we’re going to turn ourselves into a highway.
“‘We’re going to be the superhighway for people to get from wherever they are to you.’
“Because in the Belarusian case, what is Lukashenko doing? He’s basically angry at the world and the international stage for saying that his election was fake, that his rule is illegitimate, and it sounds just like petty, small power politics.”
Following the recent wave of sanctions from the West, Belarus vowed to retaliate, with Belarusian foreign ministry, in a statement, saying: “The goal of this entire policy is to economically strangle Belarus”.
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The foreign ministry said there would be “tough, asymmetric but appropriate measures” in response.
Officials did not say what those measures would be.
The whole migrant crisis is believed to be based on Belarus’ response to western sanctions tied to his efforts to arrest and punish his domestic opposition.
Now, nations like Austria and Poland are pushing the European Commission to introduce further draconian measures under its “Crisis Regulation” to deter illegal immigrants crossing into the bloc.
In an internal EU document, first reported by the EU Observer website, Poland said: “In the present situation, on the Polish-Belarusian section of the state border, we have a similar situation, where access is severely limited or prevented.
“Austria could also imagine extending the time limit up to 20 weeks as foreseen in the ‘Crisis Regulation’.”
Earlier this month, the Commission agreed to allow Poland, Lithuania and Latvia — countries that share a border with Belarus and are EU member states — to detain people for 16 weeks in processing centres as part of new temporary measures initially approved for six months.
In a separate document, officials from Vienna stressed the new EU-wide asylum rules need tightening because of the risk of future “hybrid attacks on European borders”.
It calls for “accelerated border procedures with few exceptions” and “effective restriction of movement” to deter migrants from crossing into the EU.
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