Migrants seeking asylum in the EU are currently stuck in Belarus and facing multiple human rights abuses. The Belarusian government invites these migrants who are often from worn-torn and impoverished countries in the Middle, Africa, Asia, and other regions. After arriving in Belarus, they are taken to the Belarus-Poland border, and soldiers attempt to help them cross into Poland. Poland has responded to this by declaring a state of emergency and sending security to the border to stop these migrants from entering the country. Migrants describe the Belarusian border as pure hell. They state that they are kept in a space without shelter, food, or water and that they are not allowed to return to their home countries. International and local NGOs want Poland to allow them to access the border where refugees are being held so that they can provide supplies and medical aid, but Poland’s state of emergency prevents this. European Union officials accuse Belarus’s actions of attempting to destabilize the European Union by facilitating irregular migration for political purposes. They believe that this is the revenge of Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, for the sanctions that were placed on him because of his crackdown on his opposition. While Lukashenko may be weaponizing refugee migration in order to fight back against sanctions, Europe’s increasingly hostile attitude towards refugees may prevent him from getting what he wants.
Kelly Greenhill wrote in her book Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy that since 1951 there have been at least 56 cases of countries attempting to coerce other states by using migrations, and this tactic usually works. She argues that this works because of the division that is created between the group of people that are sympathetic towards the refugees and the group of people who do not want them to be allowed into the country. States end up complying to the demands of the coercive state in order to resolve the problem (Greenhill 2010). The problem this time, however, is that there might not be a large enough group of people who are sympathetic towards the refugees to create the division that Lukashenko wants. Attitudes towards Islamic refugees have grown increasingly hostile throughout Europe. Many European right leaning parties such as the Law and Justice Party in Poland and the AfD in Germany have come into power by using populist rhetoric that paints the native population as the pure people who are under attack by the “enemy,” a category the refugees often fall under. It does not help that the refugees currently stuck in Belarus are often Muslim, a group of people that are frequently scapegoated. Studies show that Muslim asylum seekers are 11 percant less likely to be accepted than Christian asylum seekers (Bansak et al 2016).
The growing nationalistic sentiments and Islamophobia in Europe might prevent Lukashenko from achieving what he wished for by weaponizing refugees, but unfortunately, the people who will suffer the most are the refugees who were brought to Belarus with the promises of being granted asylum and are currently stuck in the country while their human rights are being severely violated. It is hard to say what the EU should do in this situation, but while the situation stalls out refugees continue to suffer.