Trapped in Transit

A great human tragedy is unfolding at Europe’s gates, and no one in the free world seems to be losing a good night’s sleep.

By Atif Shamim Syed | January 2022

There are masked Polish armed guards beyond barbed wires. The rear is flanked by equally intimidating armed and masked Belarusian soldiers. Thousands of refugees are trapped between the two at the eastern borders of the European Union (EU). Polish soldiers are not letting them in, and Belarusian soldiers are not letting them go back. As the patience of the stranded asylum-seekers wears thin, the situation becomes more explosive by the minute.

The migrants have mostly come from war-torn countries in the Middle East. Deprived of the most basic human necessities, they are trying to survive in the dense forest as a harsh European winter sets in.

There have been a few incidents of violent clashes resulting in the deaths of more than a dozen people. These migrants – numbering around 4,000 – are trapped on the Belarusian side of the border. Many of them have tried to cross into Poland, only to be pushed back into Belarus by hostile Polish soldiers.

Poland is a member of the European Union. If the refugees succeed in crossing over into Polish territory, they will be on EU soil. Currently, Poland is holding these refugees at EU’s external border. The EU argues that the situation at its borders has been deliberately engineered by President Alexander Lukashenko as a means of retaliating against sanctions on Belarus.

Belarus – formerly a part of the Soviet Union – is an outcast among European nations. Its relations with the EU worsened since Alexander Lukashenko’s sixth re-election in 2020. Opposition parties declared the election as rigged, resulting in massive street protests. Lukashenko dealt with dissent with an iron fist. This prompted the EU and the US to impose political and economic sanctions on Belarus. The EU also stopped Belarus from using its airspace.

European political analysts say that Minsk is augmenting and exploiting the refugee crisis at EU’s border in order to coerce it into lifting sanctions. Credible newspaper reports confirm that the Belarusian dictator has been actively smuggling-in refugees from the Middle East and Turkey. Asylum-seekers are issued tourist visas so that they can arrive in Belarus, and then move on towards Poland. Every day, hundreds of migrants arrive in Belarus and are channelled towards the Polish border.

Poland has reinforced its flanks with thousands of military personnel who are using excessive force to keep migrants from entering the European Union. Aid organizations are warning that the situation may soon turn into a human catastrophe.

The chain starts in Turkey. For many years, smugglers used the Turkish route to smuggle asylum-seekers into Europe through Greece. However, when Greece shut its borders, this route was closed. Another route recently opened when middlemen and agents started sending refugees to Belarus. These refugees mainly come from Syria and Iraq. Some of them have been living in Turkey for a long time. Agents lure them with the help of social media pages, posing as successful migrants. Upon inquiry, they say that they made it to the EU by taking the Belarus route.

Once an asylum-seeker is hooked, the agent refers him to a travel agency in Turkey that arranges visa through another travel agency in Belarus. Over the past few months, dozens of such ‘travel agencies’ have mushroomed in several Middle Eastern capitals. They mostly work as front companies for smugglers who lure prospective refugees and finalize travel details with them. The business is profitable and thousands of dollars change hands daily.

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