Desperate migrants as pawns in a treacherous game of chess

Migrants walking from the Polish border to a warehouse shelter on Thursday, November 18, 2021 in Bruzgi, Belarus.
Image Credit: NYT

Who would be insensitive enough to play a treacherous game of chess where migrants are used as human pawns?

The game is played that way. Belarus wants to punish the European Union (EU) for imposing sanctions on it, so it puts Poland, an EU member state, with a major migrant problem on its doorstep. Thousands of migrants, between 10,000 and 20,000, originating from the Middle East who are in Minsk, the capital of the country, are pushed towards Poland. From there, they are told, they could seek asylum in any country in Western Europe.

The cruelty of it is there for everyone. EU member states are adamantly united in their opposition to the absorption of more refugees and that if these people came to strike they would be forced to return.

“Some migrants say Belarusian forces beat them if they fail to enter Poland, sending them back to the border and denying them food or water,” Washington Post correspondent Loveday Morris wrote in a report. report filed Sunday from the town of Sokolka, the Polish border. “They also accuse the Polish guards of ill-treatment, in particular of having broken their phones before sending them back to Belarus.” Loveday tells how these migrants come and go between the two borders during the day and at night. sleep in the forest, where temperatures drop below zero

Other journalists have described equally surreal scenes. In the main line of his own report in The Guardian, Andrew Roth wrote: “Gunshots echo through the forest as Belarusian soldiers fire warning shots to repel terrified asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria looking for help ”. He goes on to describe the heart-wrenching conditions in the encampments in the forests where these people – most of whom, it seems, are ethnic Kurds – cut branches for firewood to warm themselves in the freezing cold.

The rich north wants nothing to do with refugees from the impoverished south seeking refuge in their country, and they would go to extremes to circumvent, at this time, their obligations under international law, which obliges countries of the the whole world to deal with asylum appeals by all those who arrive at their borders.

The law, ironically, was promoted by Europe and enacted in the aftermath of World War II, when Europeans, by the millions, themselves became refugees, then known as “displaced persons”, whose needs had to be met, in part for humanitarian reasons. reasons, but above all because resolving their problem was seen as a necessary function of European, and even world, stability.

But that was then. Today, this wealthy North has constantly looked for a way around this law.

The United States has found this path. Here is an example. In 1991, Washington discovered a loophole in the law. To prevent Haitian refugee boats that year from reaching Florida, for example, which would have required the United States to process all asylum seekers on board, they sent coast guard ships to them. divert elsewhere. Since then, not only have European states adopted this policy, but they have surpassed Washington in its pursuit. They have given billions of euros to the countries of the European periphery (five billion to Libya alone in 2007) to prevent refugees from approaching their borders and have even, worryingly, made travel more dangerous for them. asylum seekers by restricting the activities of aid groups and reducing search and rescue missions on the high seas, including the closure of ports to emergency rescue vessels.

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday and decided to impose a new round of sanctions on Belarus for its “instrumentalization of migrants for political ends”.

The decision is, say, cold comfort to those thousands of asylum seekers huddled in the freezing cold in makeshift camps on the Belarusian-Polish border.

After the 2015 migration crisis in Europe, which generated a nativist reaction there after the admission of more than a million asylum seekers, the doors of the borders of EU countries are now hermetically closed.

These people stranded on the border between two countries whose geopolitical disputes they know little about are unlikely to have a way out, bypass or through their problem – other than repatriation. Those, many of them, who had put their homes as collateral to pay for their ill-conceived trip, will now return home to find themselves homeless.

– Fawaz Turki is a Washington-based journalist, scholar and author. He is the author of The Disinherited: Diary of a Palestinian Exile

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