Posted on October 17, 2021

The EU Accuses Belarus of Luring Global Migrants Into Other European Countries

Rob Schmitz, NPR, October 12, 2021

For the past 10 days, Doniel Machado Pujol and Raydel Aparicio Bringa say they’ve been surviving on river water and kernels of raw corn, plucked from dying stalks among the frozen fields of eastern Poland. Sleeping under piles of leaves and hiking through forests and farmland for days was more than they bargained for when they left Cuba three weeks ago.


The two men are among an estimated 16,000 migrants stopped by Poland’s border patrol for illegally crossing the country’s 250-mile-long border with Belarus since August.

Leaders in the EU say Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government is organizing the illegal passage of migrants from war-torn and impoverished countries into Poland and other EU neighbors. They suspect this comes in retaliation for EU economic sanctions placed on Belarus after the bloc accused the authoritarian leader of stealing last year’s election and ordering human rights violations. Now humanitarian groups are criticizing Poland for pushing some migrants back to Belarus rather than reviewing their asylum applications.


{snip} “There are many Iraqis, Kurds, there are people from Yemen, Syria, there are people from African countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, and now we’ve got people from Afghanistan,” says Kalina Czwarnog, who works for the Polish humanitarian organization OcalenieFoundation. The group is delivering food and water to migrants and helping them with asylum applications.

She says the government of Belarus is orchestrating this humanitarian crisis. “They are inviting them to Belarus, saying that they can cross the EU border from there. And they are getting a seven-day visa or stamp,” she says.

From there, Belarusian soldiers escort them to the border and help them across. Czwarnog says when Polish border guards catch them, they’re supposed to allow migrants to apply for asylum. Instead, she says, they’re putting most of them in vans and taking them back to Belarus, where soldiers often beat them and send them back to Poland again. {snip}


The EU has hit Belarus with several rounds of economic sanctions since last year, accusing Lukashenko of stealing his country’s election as well as ordering violent crackdowns and other rights abuses of citizens, including a forced plane landing in May to arrest a Belarusian journalist.

Poland says that Lukashenko, backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, launched a hybrid attack to destabilize the EU in response.

“This phenomenon that we’ve been witnessing there recently is a kind of weaponization of migration,” says Marcin Przydacz, the deputy foreign minister of Poland.


Polish journalist Patryk Michalski with the online news outlet Wirtualna Polska says his reporting could support the claim that Belarus’ government profits from human trafficking. Michalski discovered a trove of documents left behind by a group of migrants in the forest along the border and shared them with NPR.

Among the tattered and ripped up papers are lists of travelers from Iraq, passport numbers and receipts of payments made to Belarusian travel agencies for flights to Belarus on the state’s Belavia airline. There are invoices of stays at five-star hotels run by the Belarusian government, as well as documents signed by Belarusian officials who helped facilitate the trips.

Belarus has helped build the infrastructure to accommodate these travelers, too. At the beginning of the year, there was only a single flight from Iraq to Minsk, the Belarusian capital. Now there are several flights a week from multiple Iraqi cities. Iraqi Airways says their flights from Iraq to Belarus are sold out through November.

“Suddenly there are thousands of migrants from the Middle East or African countries in Belarus and suddenly, somehow, it is a very popular holiday destination for these people,” says Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Przydacz. “As we all know, Belarus has never been a popular destination where you spend a nice weekend, especially in the autumn or winter.”