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A new humanitarian crisis unfolds at the Polish-Belarusian border
Thousands of migrants tried to enter the European Union but were cut off by a military build-up and approaching winter.
Migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere gather at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus. [Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA via AP Photo]
24 Nov 2021
For weeks, a large group of people, mostly from the Middle East, has been stranded in Belarus at a border crossing with Poland, trapped as forces from the two countries face off against each other.
Most are fleeing conflict or a sense of hopelessness at home, and aim to reach Germany or other Western European countries.
The West has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of luring the refugees and migrants to the border to use them as pawns to destabilise the 27-nation European Union in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian government.
Belarus denies orchestrating the crisis, which has seen refugees and migrants entering the country since summer and then trying to cross into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Humanitarian agencies say as many as 13 people have died at the border, where many have suffered in a cold, damp forest with little food or water as frigid winter sets in.
Tuesday brought the first snowfall since the crisis started.
About 2,000 people are currently staying at a warehouse facility near the border with Poland. Lukashenko has said a total of 7,000 refugees and migrants remain in the country.
The spokesman for Poland’s security services, Stanislaw Zaryn estimated approximately 10,000 migrants are in Belarus now.
About 8,000 migrants have entered the 27-nation EU – mostly through Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia – from Belarus this year, and border guards have prevented tens of thousands of crossing attempts, according to EU figures.
The crisis erupted earlier this year when longtime Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko reacted furiously to EU sanctions. The bloc had punished Minsk over its forced diversion of a passenger jet in May and subsequent arrest of a dissident journalist, Roman Protasevich, who was on board.
Months earlier, the EU and the United States penalised Lukashenko’s government for cracking down on dissent after a disputed August 2020 election which handed the 67-year-old a sixth term and provoked mass anti-government protests.
Migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere gather at the checkpoint "Kuznitsa" at the Belarus-Poland border. The EU is calling for humanitarian aid as up to 4,000 migrants are stuck in makeshift camps in freezing weather in Belarus while Poland has reinforced its border with 15,000 soldiers, in addition to border guards and police. [Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP Photo]
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Belarusian servicemen control the situation while migrants get humanitarian aid as they gather at the Belarus-Poland border. Thousands of people from Middle Eastern nations devastated by conflict have been trying to slip into the European Union. They are using a backdoor that was surreptitiously opened by Belarus a few months ago. [Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA/AP Photo]
Polish servicemen are seen on the other side of the barbed wire fence during clashes between migrants and Polish border guards at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus. Polish border forces say they were attacked with stones by migrants at the border with Belarus and responded with a water cannon. The Border Guard agency posted a video on Twitter showing the water cannon being directed across the border at a group of migrants in a makeshift camp. [Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP Photo]
Migrants warm themselves at a fire as they gather at the Belarus-Poland border. A large number of migrants are in a makeshift camp on the Belarusian side of the border in frigid conditions. Belarusian state news agency Belta reported that Lukashenko ordered the military to set up tents at the border where food and other humanitarian aid can be gathered and distributed to the migrants. [Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP Photo]
A man sits outside a tent as other migrants gather at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus. About 15,000 Polish troops have joined riot police and guards at the border. The Belarusian Defense Ministry accused Poland of an "unprecedented" military buildup there, saying that migration control did not warrant such a force. [Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP Photo]
A local Muslim community buried a Yemeni migrant Mustafa Mohammed Murshed Al-Raimi, in Bohoniki, Poland. The person is one of about a dozen people from the Middle East and elsewhere who have died in an area of forests and bogs along the Poland-Belarus border amid a standoff involving migrants between the two countries. The burial took place in a Muslim cemetery in Bohoniki, where a population of Muslim Tatars has lived for centuries. It was the second funeral which community members have performed for a migrant in the past week. [Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo]
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Migrants sleep at a logistics centre at the checkpoint "Kuznitsa" at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Monday chafed at the European Union for its refusal to hold talks on the influx of migrants on the country's border with Poland and urged Germany to accommodate about 2,000 migrants who had remained on the border with Poland. [Maxim Guchek/BelTA via AP Photo]
A person sits at a transport and logistics centre near the Belarusian-Polish border, in the Grodno region, Belarus. [Kacper Pempel/Reuters]
A woman carries a child as they exit a tent outside the transport and logistics centre near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, Belarus. [Kacper Pempel/Reuters]
Members of the local Muslim community tidy the grave of a stillborn 27-week-old baby - named Halikari Dhaker during the funeral ceremony at the Muslim cemetery in Bohoniki, eastern Poland, near the Polish-Belarusian border, during the migrant crisis. The 27-week-old foetus of an Iraqi migrant who lost her baby after crossing the European Union border into Poland was laid to rest on November 23 in a Muslim cemetery. [Mateusz Slodkowski/AFP]
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