Poland’s Border Crisis


Oksana Manchuk

GRODNO REGION, BELARUS – NOVEMBER 15, 2021 (Photo by Oksana Manchuk via Getty Images)

Paul Siebert


Since August 2021, thousands of immigrants have been camping on the Polish-Belarussian border. They have been trying to enter Poland and by doing so, also the European Union (EU). Belarus has been accused of using the immigrants as pawns in a political chess game. Whether this accusation is based on facts, how both sides handled and will handle the situation, and what observers expect to happen will be clarified in this article.

The Happenings

The number of all immigrants who tried to enter the EU has been growing for weeks. Diplomats estimate that between 10,000 and 20,000 people are camping at the border. Poland, reacting to the increasing number of migrants at the border, has increased its forces in the area to more than 17,000 soldiers who were, and are still allowed, to use water cannons and tear gas to stop the migrants from entering the country. Since then, Belarus has transferred hundreds of immigrants to warehouses where they now at least have a safe and warm place to sleep, but they have flown some of them back to their home countries. Overall, Belarus has offered to fly back around 5,000 more immigrants if they returned voluntarily. Belarus also said that it wanted the EU to take in 2,000 immigrants. While the EU has previously said that it wouldn’t negotiate with Belarus at all, German chancellor Angela Merkel has talked to Belarussian President Aleksandr Grigoryevich Lukashenko at least twice in the last few weeks to prevent a humanitarian crisis. 

Even though this sounds like the situation is calming down, that isn’t really true; the crisis isn’t over yet. Non-government organizations (NGOs) estimate that at least 11 people have died so far, and if nothing happens anytime soon, a lot of people are expected to die in the snow that is starting to fall at the border. The president of the Polish Center for International Aid (an NGO) said, “Some of the migrants hope to even trek, to walk on foot, all the distance to the German border. But in the freezing rain, in the pre-winter conditions of Poland, that’s – A, not possible, B, directly life-threatening.” A couple, both injured, told the NGO on November 18th that their one-year-old child had died in the forest. Shwan Kurd, 33, from Iraq told the BBC by video-call: “Nobody is letting us get in anywhere, Belarus or Poland, there’s no way to escape. Poland won’t let us in. Every night they fly helicopters. They don’t let us sleep. We are so hungry. There’s no water or food here. There are little children, old men and women, and families.” Poland has also been accused of pushing immigrants back into Belarus after they had entered Poland. While that wasn’t confirmed, it would be illegal if it really did happen since it would be a violation of the European convention on Human Rights not to give the migrants a chance to apply for asylum. 

EU leaders are in quite the situation now. They have to decide whether the EU has to stand their ground against a country like Belarus and its ally Russia or needs to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Of course, the EU wants to work with its member state Poland, but Poland hasn’t let any journalists, aid organizations, or EU officials come close to the border which makes reports difficult to verify.

Did Belarus coordinate the crisis? 

Are the accusations concerning Belarus coordinating the whole crisis to put pressure on the EU in revenge for EU sanctions against the country justified? Well, the EU, the US, and NATO have all accused Belarus of this. Flights from the Middle East to Belarus’ capital Minsk have more than doubled in the past few weeks. Allegedly, Belarus had also told people in the Middle East that they would be able to cross into the EU from Belarus. In conclusion, it is very likely that Belarus at least partly coordinated the crisis. Because of that, the EU is currently working on sanctioning Belarus. According to Josep Boreel, the EU foreign policy chief, “People, airlines, travel agencies and everyone involved in this illegal push of migrants against our borders will also be sanctioned.” The EU had already imposed four rounds of sanctions on the Belarussian authorities and senior officials over last year’s disputed election and the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters that followed. Now, the EU seems to still want to sanction Belarus even after Belarussian President Lukashenko has threatened to cut off Russian gas supplies running through Belarus. He might not even be able to do that though. A Kremlin spokesperson stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin had expressed “confidence that this won’t affect the transport of gas.”. Russia is also further involved in this conflict since it is Belarus’ ally, and it described Belarus’ handling of the situation as “responsible.” Poland’s President Andrzej Duda also accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being the mastermind behind the whole situation. According to Duda, he wanted to destabilize the EU. There is no proof that Russia was actually involved, but Poland has repeatedly stated that they have evidence but do not want to release it yet. 

Poland isn’t really acting perfectly correct either. Ever since the Law and Justice party (PiS) was elected in 2015, Polish broadcasters gloated that now they can talk about Muslim immigrants “for who they really are: terrorists.”  In its 2015 electoral campaign, the PiS called immigrants biological dangers carrying anti-European germs. Poland should not just be seen as the victim here; the PiS might even be happy about this crisis because it can finally present immigrants as a clear and present danger to the Polish people, perfectly benefiting their political agenda.


At this point, we can be quite sure that Belarus was involved in orchestrating the crisis. The EU will soon sanction the country for the fifth time within two years because of its behavior. Whether Russia is also involved remains unclear, but Poland keeps firing suspicions in Russia’s direction. We will all have to hope that the parties can come to an agreement soon because the immigrants’ situation is getting more and more deadly at the moment. This situation has really put the EU in a lot of trouble and it doesn’t have much time to decide whether it wants to open its borders and save human lives or stand strong and possibly contribute to the deaths of hundreds of people. Of course, the perfect solution would be an agreement with Belarus which would allow the EU to not lose this “political chess game” against Belarus by not opening its borders while saving the lives of hundreds or potentially thousands of humans at the border.