Thousands of would-be asylum seekers from the Middle East have gathered at the border between Poland and Belarus since October. They did not get there on their own, and their presence is a crisis manufactured by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko for the purpose of creating tension with the European Union.
How did they end up in Belarus?
During the European migration crisis of 2015, most refugees fleeing the Middle East crossed the treacherous Mediterranean Sea on more-or-less seaworthy vessels. But in this case,people have been flown straight to Belarus courtesy of Belavia, the country’s national airline, which since just last year have introduced a number of new destinations, including Damascus, Baghdad, Ankara, and several other prominent Middle Eastern cities. It’s a cunning strategy to import people from the Middle East. After landing in Belarus, these would-be migrants have been transported to the Polish/Belarusian border, and largely left to fend for themselves (though as of November 18, some have been given temporary shelter by Belarus in abandoned warehouse buildings). Having paid dearly to get to Europe, the migrants are not keen to leave. Some have made it over the border, but most have so far been stopped in violent clashes with the Polish military.
This border, crucially, is also an external border of the EU, as Poland is a member of the EU while Belarus is not. While the migrants are attempting to cross into Poland, Germany is in fact the final destination for most of them, a country that, together with Sweden, welcomed the lion’s share of the refugees who arrived in 2015. There are virtually no border controls between EU countries. If you manage to enter one EU country, you can enter any one of them without ever having to show your passport or proof that you have a right to stay here.