Since the Russia-Ukraine war broke out, Poland has welcomed over a million Ukrainians with open arms. However, migrants from other countries on their border are camping in the cold forests and trying to stay alive at all costs.
Cold and hunger are just a few of the conditions that migrants on the Poland-Belarus border are facing. Among them mainly families of Iraqi Kurds with a smaller group of Africans fleeing even harsher living conditions back home.
In 2019, Belarus’ relations with the EU were strained as Alexander Luckashenko entered office as president for the sixth term in a row. Many EU countries, including Poland, claimed the victory to be fraudulent and hit Belarus with a wave of sanctions. There have been accusations that Lukashenko has encouraged migrants fleeing violence and oppressive governments to enter neighbouring EU countries in order to antagonise them. The accusations include facilitating people from Syria, Afghanistan, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and other countries to enter Europe for his own purposes. “He is using these migrants as political pawns in an attempt to get revenge,” stated Liubakova of the Eurasia Center. The government of Belarus denies these suggestions.
According to The Guardian, the border crisis has left many in freezing temperatures without food, among them young children and families seeking a better life in more stable and safer EU countries. “I don’t want to stay in Iraq because life there is difficult, even our life is dangerous. Our life there isn’t safe, as you see about ISIS and everything else,” 27-year-old Iraqi migrant Ahmad Rebaz told The Associated Press.
In response to the migrants, Poland heavily militarised their borders sending in troops and building fences from barbed wire, this is a striking contrast to the warm welcome that Ukranians have received from Poland and the wider EU, where there are many reports of children being let through without passports. “The Polish nation knows the pain of war,” posted Dominik Modlinski, a Pole now living in Canada. Many Eastern European countries have endured Russian invasions throughout history, leading people like Dominik thinking that this may be part of why there is rapid accommodation of Ukranians.
Claudia Ciobanu, writing for Balkan Insight shares that “It’s not a matter of capacity”. They have accepted over a million Ukrainian refugees with more coming.
During a conference, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski claimed that among the migrants on the border were terrorists and drug addicts, claims debunked by multiple organizations who state that the people are mostly families seeking better lives elsewhere. Ciobanu claims that the accusations against the migrants have been debunked by the media on the border.
“Everyone has the right to live in peace and security. Everyone has the right to seek for themselves and their loved ones’ conditions that will ensure a safe life” said Polish Archbishop Gadecki while thanking Poland for helping Ukrainians.
Mateusz Moraweicki, the Polish interior minister, said while reflecting on the situation: “I think that the things that unfold before our eyes, these dramatic events, may only be a prelude to something much worse.” The much worse however, is yet to reveal itself.
Cover image credit: Henryk Niestrój http://www.instagram.com/henrykniestrojfotografia