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EU Condemns Belarus for Aiding Migrant Surge

Hundreds of migrants have set up camp on Belarus’s border with Poland, hoping for passage into the European Union.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border
Migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border are seen in the Grodno region on Nov. 8. Leonid Shcheglov/BELTA/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hundreds of migrants camp on Belarus’s border with Poland, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is sent to a prison hospital, and U.S. and African Union envoys plan to discuss the Ethiopia crisis.

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Poland Prepares for Migrants Sent by Belarus

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hundreds of migrants camp on Belarus’s border with Poland, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is sent to a prison hospital, and U.S. and African Union envoys plan to discuss the Ethiopia crisis.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Poland Prepares for Migrants Sent by Belarus

Poland has accused Belarus of “deliberate escalation of tension” as it blamed the government of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko for intentionally facilitating an increase in the number of migrants attempting to cross into European Union territory from its eastern neighbor.

The European Commission joined in the condemnation, with spokesperson for migration Adalbert Jahnz calling the crossings a “continuation of the desperate attempt by the Lukashenko regime to use people as pawns to destabilize the European Union and, of course, the values that we stand for.”

Lukashenko’s government is accused of enticing migrants from Iraq and surrounding countries with the promise of swift passage to the European Union through its borders with Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

Reports from the Lithuanian border suggest Belarusian security forces have aided the passage, even crossing into EU territory at times. Independent reporting from the Polish border is harder to come by, as authorities have now banned civilians, including journalists, from coming within 1.8 miles. Foreign Policy published a dispatch from the area in September by Polish journalist Tomasz Grzywaczewski, who noted that “as authoritarian regimes seek to sow internal discord and chaos in Poland and the Baltics, their weapon of choice is helpless human beings.”

The crisis marks a further deterioration in EU relations with Belarus after the bloc imposed sanctions following the country’s fraudulent presidential election in 2020 and its forced diversion of a Ryanair jet over the summer to arrest a dissident.

Those EU states bordering Belarus have been quick to take security measures to keep the migrants out. Poland has almost doubled the number of security personnel on its border while Lithuania has begun building a 316-mile border fence to deter unwanted incursions.

As well as coming up against barbed wire and armed guards, the migrants must now contend with harsh winter conditions. At least 10 migrants are reported to have died since the crossings increased this summer.

And while descriptions of the situation as a form of “hybrid war” risk hyperbole, the possibility of actual conflict isn’t far away, with armed forces from both the Polish and Belarusian governments within firing range.

One group that is not present on Poland’s border is Frontex, the EU border authority. Poland has so far resisted calls to allow the agency to provide assistance, unlike Lithuania and Latvia. The decision to go it alone has been criticized, not least because it allows Polish forces to act without oversight.

The Ocalenie Foundation, a Polish group working with migrants, has accused Polish authorities of “inhumane tactics,” highlighting its policy of pushing the migrants back and refusing asylum requests as against international law, a practice the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has also condemned. As the U.S. decision to expel Haitian migrants in September showed, those pushback techniques are not solely used by Poland.

Even though each country could easily absorb the relatively small number of migrants, their political symbolism in Poland, which is ruled by the right-wing Law and Justice party, makes welcoming them a nonstarter. Still, attitudes in Poland are slowly changing. A Gallup survey found the number of respondents seeing migrants in their country as a good thing jumped from 28 percent to 42 percent from 2016 to 2019.

Recent EU solutions to migration do not inspire confidence in a humane and orderly resolution, and as the EU approach to Turkey and Libya showed, solutions often tend to involve throwing money at the problem. In the short term, more sanctions seems to be the most likely choice for EU leaders, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urging Brussels to tackle one shallow root cause of the recent surge: the airlines that send the migrants to Belarus in the first place.

What We’re Following Today

Ethiopia’s war. Speaking to the U.N. Security Council on Monday, Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s Horn of Africa envoy, said he hoped to have a program finalized by the end of the week that would satisfy demands for troop withdrawals and humanitarian access by all sides in Ethiopia’s civil war.

Obasanjo said his recent discussions with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as well as leaders from the Tigray and Oromia regions confirmed all “agree individually that the differences between them are political and require political solution through dialogue.”

The former Nigerian president visits the Amhara and Afar regions today before holding talks with his U.S. counterpart, Jeffrey Feltman, in Addis Ababa as both men push for a cease-fire.

Saakashvili sent to hospital. Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has been transferred to a prison hospital in the Georgian city of Rustavi as he continues a hunger strike. Saakashvili began the extreme action after he was detained following his return to the country in October to support the opposition in local elections. As FP’s Amy Mackinnon reports, Saakashvili’s fate could be “the most profound signal yet about where the country is heading” amid fears of a democratic backslide.

Keep an Eye On

Build Back in 2022. The United States plans to make its first investment in overseas infrastructure projects as part of the G-7’s Build Back Better World initiative in January, the White House said on Monday, as rich countries seek to catch up with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Although funding recipients have not been named, recent “listening tours” to Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Senegal, and Ghana by U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh provide a hint.

Odds and Ends

Even though the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation is at its weakest in a thousand years, the currents linking North America to Europe are still flowing. Proof of that showed up on a beach on Ireland’s west coast on Monday, when a trash can belonging to the city of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina—more than 3,500 miles away—washed up. City officials said the receptacle likely began its voyage during high winds or a storm event and has encouraged recycling rather than returning it.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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