Migrant Crisis at Belarus

As the global refugee crisis continues, Belarus is struggling to accommodate a significant number of asylum seekers. In order for people in need to have access to food and shelter, nations will have incentives for refugees on their territory. How countries can use blockchain technology to help being this situation remains unclear

The “Belarus migrant crisis wiki” is a website that contains information on the Belarusian migrant crisis. The site has articles and videos on the topic, including some from Al Jazeera English.


On Wednesday, migrants queued for tea from the Belarusian Red Cross and Emergency Ministries at a logistical depot near the Belarus-Polish border in Bruzgi. Credit… The New York Times’ James Hill

Belarus, BRUZGI — On Wednesday, Belarusian officials sought to relieve tensions along the country’s border with Poland, a day after the major border crossing devolved into violence, with desperate migrants flinging stones at Polish border guards, who retaliated with tear gas and water cannon blasts.

Hundreds of migrants are being housed in a vast red brick warehouse only a few hundred yards from the border crossing, providing much-needed comfort to hundreds of families who have spent weeks camping in frigid, fetid fields with nothing but the clothing on their backs.

“Many thanks to Belarus.” “Thank you, Belarus,” Rebas Ali, 28, remarked. “Belarus is a lovely country.”

The migrant issue has been dubbed a “hybrid war” orchestrated by Belarusian President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko to punish Poland for harboring some of his most vocal critics and to urge the European Union to relax sanctions on his country.

However, if migrants are being utilized as pawns in a fight, it is also an information war. Belarusians attempted to present themselves as humanitarians on Wednesday.

Mr. Lukashenko’s adviser, Yuri Karayev, claimed that 1,100 refugees had already been relocated from the “jungle” region near the bridge. He estimated that around 800 individuals were still tented near the border.

“It is our aim, that is our desire,” he stated when asked whether they intended to completely shut down the encampments.

The New York Times and other foreign news organizations were allowed to view the filth and despair at the border. Belarusian authorities claim that the European Union’s failure to follow international law and allow those fleeing violence and despair to at least request for asylum once they reach Poland, a member of the bloc, is to blame for the humanitarian disaster.

Poland has closed its side of the border, preventing humanitarian workers, journalists, and even medics, in order to keep the refugees’ plight hidden from the public view. Hundreds of migrants attempted to enter Poland on Tuesday, but Polish border guards repelled them with water cannons and tear gas.

Following the incident, Poland’s nationalist ruling party attempted to present it as a huge triumph.

On Tuesday, Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak tweeted, “Thank you to the army for halting today’s attack.” “Poland is still safe to visit.” All troops already stationed on the border will be eligible for additional financial incentives.”

While the strain at the major crossing reduced overnight, he claimed there were many attempts to breach the 250-mile border at other sites.

“The situation on the Belarusian border will not be settled fast,” the defense minister said in an interview with Poland’s public station, Radio One, on Wednesday. “We’ll need months, if not years, to prepare.”

Between 2,000 and 4,000 migrants are expected to be at the border, many of them are from Syria, Iraq, and other countries of the Middle East. Poland has already deployed around 15,000 troops, in addition to a large number of border guards and police personnel.

The number of Belarusian security troops sent over the border has not been made public. However, a large number of people stood watch outside the warehouse, their faces hidden under black balaclavas. Migrants reported being assaulted by Belarusian troops and being led to various locations along the Polish border as the situation worsened.

Hundreds of people were thankful for a hot lunch, and children were given milk and juice, but many individuals in the warehouses were unsure what would happen next.

Balia Ahmed, 31, was at the warehouse with her husband and two children, ages 8 and 10. She said that she was terrified to be there for fear of being deported, but that she didn’t have a choice.

“My kids were cold and on the verge of dying,” she said.

— Marc Santora and Andrew Higgins

Maria Ancipuk, a Michalowo resident and the chairwoman of the City Council, puts a green light in the window as a welcoming symbol for migrants. Credit… The New York Times’ Maciek Nabrdalik

The green light in the window was visible from the main road in Michalowo, a Polish town 15 miles from the Belarusian border, in a region where hundreds of asylum seekers have been stalled on their route to the European Union in recent months.

“It implies that my home is a secure location for migrants to seek assistance,” said Maria Ancipuk, the City Council’s president.

Following a news story of a group of Yazidi children being driven back into the frigid wilderness on the Belarusian side by border guards, Ms. Ancipuk felt compelled to intervene. “You simply don’t forget such things,” she replied, her voice shaking and tears streaming down her face. “I vowed myself, ‘I’ll do all I can to make sure it doesn’t happen here again.’”

The European Union has accused Belarus’ dictator, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, of funneling asylum seekers from the Middle East through his nation into Poland in retribution for EU sanctions imposed on his dictatorship after a disputed 2020 election and subsequent crackdown on the opposition.

With clashes between Polish authorities and migrants incited by Belarusian police to breach the heavily guarded border in recent days, those caught in the middle have had to rely on an unofficial network of local residents, activists from all over Poland, and volunteer medics spread across the border area for support.

Only individuals who are successful in filing an asylum claim are eligible for government assistance. Local assistance is even more critical within a two-mile-wide buffer zone encircling the border, which the Polish authorities have blocked off to all non-residents, including journalists, physicians, and humanitarian organizations.

However, the majority of volunteers choose not to promote their efforts. “Only a few of us are actively assisting,” said Roman, a local who begged to be named only by his first name to avoid penalties from authorities and local far-right organizations. “The vast majority stays deafeningly quiet.”

Until now, using green lights as a message for migrants has been mostly symbolic, with just a few migrants being aware of it. But, as Ms Ancipuk pointed out, it is as much a symbol for asylum seekers as it is for her neighbors.

“People are afraid to do it,” Ms. Ancipuk said. “I began receiving hate texts as soon as I placed the light in my window,” she said. “However, I will not be intimidated.”

Ukrainian troops at Shchastya, Ukraine, in April. Credit… The New York Times’ Brendan Hoffman

BRUSSELS, BELGIAN REPUBLICAN REPUBLICAN REPU While human suffering and political maneuverings on the Belarus-Poland border have heightened tensions on the European Union’s eastern edge, Western diplomats are also concerned about Russian soldiers massing on Ukraine’s border.

The presence of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s breakaway, Russian-backed separatist enclaves — along with heavy equipment and armor such as tanks, artillery, and short-range missile systems — has prompted American officials to warn of a “high probability” that Russia is planning more military aggression against Ukraine.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, this week to warn Russia that retaliating against Ukraine would be a “big mistake” with catastrophic implications. “We don’t know Moscow’s goals,” Mr. Blinken added, “but we do know its playbook.” “Any escalation or hostile moves would be a major source of worry for the US.”

Following American fears that Russia may be ready to launch a winter attack in Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with Mr. Kuleba on Monday and warned Moscow against “any additional provocation or provocative acts.”

Mr. Stoltenberg said, “We have witnessed substantial and unusual concentrations of Russian military near to Ukraine’s borders.” “NATO continues to stay cautious,” he said, adding that “any additional provocation or hostile acts by Russia would be of grave concern.” We demand that Russia be open and honest about its military operations.”

The Biden administration has been attempting to re-establish and at the very least normalize ties with Moscow. And in April, ahead of a June summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, President Biden advised Mr. Putin to scale down an earlier army deployment on the Ukrainian border.

The Russians evacuated some soldiers but kept many more in situ, complete with equipment and armor, and have lately increased military numbers. Moscow argues it is just reacting to a more modern Ukrainian military, which has been backed by Washington and is now armed with advanced armored drones purchased from Turkey.

Mr. Putin, presumably mindful of his own legacy, continues to declare openly that Ukraine is an artificial nation that belongs to Russia’s sphere of influence rather than the West.

No one knows for sure what Mr. Putin has planned, but a senior Western diplomat speculated that the buildup near Ukraine is linked to pressure on Poland and the European Union, both with migrants and a reduced supply of natural gas, driving up energy prices, in order to keep Europe and the West off balance and further disrupt Ukraine.

After troops unloaded Maciek Nabrdalik’s vehicle, the possessions of the New York Times photojournalist Maciek Nabrdalik. Maciek Nabrdalik of The New York Times contributed to this article.

The impasse between Poland and Belarus on the border is a humanitarian disaster in the making, a geopolitical conflict, and yet another example of migration’s challenges.

But it’s also become a war for narrative control.

Belarus, which is being accused by the West for drawing migrants into the nation and causing the problem, is ready for the rest of the world to witness the mess it has produced. Poland, which has organized to halt refugees, is attempting to limit media coverage, which resulted in the arrest of a New York Times photographer on Tuesday.

Journalists are not allowed to operate in a “red zone” border region where migrants are attempting to enter into Poland from Belarus, according to Poland’s populist government. It has also sent about 15,000 troops, police officers, and border officials in what the nation’s authorities describe as a massive effort to keep the country secure.

Maciek Nabrdalik, a Times photographer, and two colleagues were seeking to record the fortification of the eastern border on Tuesday evening when they were held for more than an hour by Polish forces. They were handcuffed and their cameras were examined, as well as their vehicle.

Mr. Nabrdalik had been driving along the border for more than a week, documenting the buildup, and although police officers had often stopped him and asked for identification, he had been permitted to continue working as long as he kept out of the red zone. The three photographers arrived to a military encampment outside the little hamlet of Wiejki, only a few kilometers from the border, around night on Tuesday.

Only a few kilometers from the border, a military camp is located outside the hamlet of Wiejki. Maciek Nabrdalik of The New York Times contributed to this article.

Mr. Nabrdalik said, “It’s near to the restricted zone but not in it.” “We went to the gate and introduced ourselves, telling them we were going to snap photos outside and simply wanted to let them know.” In Poland, this is perfectly legal.”

More than a dozen armed troops encircled the photographers as they prepared to depart, ordering them to empty their pockets and remove their jackets in the freezing cold, and then handcuffing them. Soldiers then searched Mr. Nabrdalik’s vehicle for valuables and scrutinized their cameras.

Mr. Nabrdalik stated, “I told them listen, we’re journalists, and what they’re doing now is breaching the law in Poland.”

Mr. Nabrdalik stated that when the police came more than an hour later, the tone had shifted. Officers provided them a torch to assist them in retrieving their items off the side of the road, and they were ultimately permitted to drive away.

The Polish Press Agency, the country’s official news agency, issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing what it termed a “attack” on photojournalists. The imprisonment of the photographers was not a “attack,” according to Poland’s Ministry of Defense, but rather an authorized action by troops in a sensitive situation.

“It is important to recall that troops serve under developing tensions and are aware of the growing use of hybrid warfare techniques,” the ministry added. “In an emergency, we all need to know what to do.”

On Tuesday, a group of refugees gathered outside a hotel in Minsk, Belarus. Credit… The New York Times is a newspaper published in New York City.

Abdullah al-Yousef, a 24-year-old Syrian from Idlib, came in Belarus aboard a flight from Lebanon last week. He stated he was getting ready to travel to the Polish border the following morning, speaking by phone from Minsk, the capital.

“I’m going to attempt to cross tomorrow,” he remarked. “I’m not sure what’s in store for me, but I’ve heard the border situation isn’t looking good.”

He said that a buddy from Idlib was already at the border, attempting his fourth attempt to enter the European Union. The situation at the border has been chaotic: migrants have stampeded into checkpoints strongly guarded by Polish border troops, who have occasionally retaliated with water cannons and tear gas, egged on by Belarusian security forces.

Mr. al-goal Yousef’s was to take a cab to the border and use his phone’s GPS navigation to navigate into Poland with a group of other migrants.

His voyage has cost him almost $8,000 in total. His aim, he added, was to make it to Germany, despite the fact that his wife and two children remained in Lebanon.

He said, “I want to start a new life.”

The following several days were a nightmare. He and four other migrants went through woodlands and marshes to reach the border, when they were thrashed by Belarusian border guards who stole their money and told them not to return, according to him. They replied, “No Belarus, no Poland.”

Mr. al-Yousef had hardly enough money for water or food after five days and nights of attempted crossings. He returned to Minsk and used his last $50 to get a hotel room for one night. He had to check out at noon the following day, and he claimed to have slept in a park that night.

He’s now stranded. He can’t return to Lebanon because he doesn’t have a visa, he can’t return to Syria, and, most importantly, he’s out of money. He only had five Belarusian rubles in his pocket, which was around $2.

He wrote in a WhatsApp voice message on Tuesday that he couldn’t buy himself a dinner and that he was losing hope.

“I’m completely perplexed,” he said. “I’m at a loss for what to do.”

He wrote another message on Wednesday, stating he was going to try his luck at the border once again.

This week at the Polish-Belarusian border, volunteer paramedics from the Polish Center for International Aid. Credit… The New York Times’ Maciek Nabrdalik

Asylum seekers from the Middle East who arrive on the Polish side of the border, many of whom are in critical health, risk being deported to Belarus by Polish officials. Reaching out to local activists is their greatest bet for receiving food, water, or medical help.

Despite the fact that offering assistance is lawful, campaigners say they are afraid of the government. To get to stranded migrants before border authorities, they say it’s like playing “a cat-and-mouse game.”

Human rights groups have accused Poland’s government, headed by the right-wing Law and Justice party, of unlawfully deporting asylum applicants who enter the country via Belarus.

The police and special army forces monitor the local roads and woodlands around the emergency zone, which is off limits to anybody but locals.

Volunteers scour the woodlands for trapped migrants in the absence of organized assistance, putting rescue packages comprising food, drink, and warm clothing on trees. People are bringing handmade soups, some of which are efforts at Middle Eastern cuisine, and well wishes from all across Poland. Tamara, a 4-year-old from Torun, roughly 300 miles from the border, produced a sketch for her parents to include in an assistance box, wishing asylum seekers success.

According to Polish police, at least eleven individuals have died at the border in recent weeks, but the true death toll might be significantly higher.

Medics on the Border, a group of volunteer medics, has been assisting migrants stuck in the vast and wet woods that run parallel to the Polish-Belarusian border. Polish authorities have prohibited physicians from functioning in the emergency zone.

The physicians highlight the difficulty of treating patients who must then be abandoned in the midst of the woods. Most asylum seekers are afraid of being caught and deported back to Belarus if they attend a hospital.

In an interview, Jakub Sieczko, an anesthesiologist from Warsaw and a coordinator for Medics on the Border, stated, “There is no follow-up, and you cannot live in the Polish forests for a long time in winter.” “It’s sickening that we have to conceal individuals from the government.”

In a forest near Michalowo, Poland, volunteers from the Granica Group put an emergency pack including food and water on a tree. Credit… The New York Times’ Maciek Nabrdalik

The scenario has been described as “an extraordinary crisis” by Wojtek Wilk, the chairman of the Polish Center for International Aid, which took over operations from Medics on the Border on Monday.

He said that despite his 20 years of humanitarian relief expertise in Nepal, Ethiopia, and Lebanon, he had never seen such legal ambiguity for the people he was meant to be aiding. Mr. Wilk stated that the organization is presently negotiating with the authorities for access to the emergency zone.

With the news media prohibited from the border region, a rising disinformation epidemic is adding to local inhabitants’ feeling of bewilderment and dread. As the border stalemate grows, some residents say it brings up horrible memories of World War II, which are still fresh in the border area of Podlasie, which suffered greatly during Soviet and Nazi rule.

“During the war, I would have been executed by firing squad,” Maria Ancipuk, who has been assisting migrants in Michalowo, said. “In the worst-case scenario, I’ll be sent to jail today.” This is insignificant.”

Mr. Sieczko compared the situation to “the worst periods in Polish history.”

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus was seen on Tuesday during a meeting in Minsk, according to his press office. Belarus President Press Office photo courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to Estonia’s foreign minister, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Belarus’ dictatorial leader, is requesting that the European Union acknowledge him as the nation’s legitimate leader and ease sanctions against his country in order to settle the migrant situation on the Belarus-Polish border.

“He wants the sanctions lifted and for him to be recognized as the head of state so he can go on,” Eva-Maria Liimets, the minister, said, adding that this would be inappropriate since it would reward him for causing the crisis.

Her comments on Tuesday on Estonian public television come a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked to Mr. Lukashenko on the phone.

It was his first meeting with a Western leader since last year, when he ruthlessly quashed demonstrators accusing him of rigging presidential elections by an 80 percent margin. He is not recognized by Western governments as Belarus’ legitimate leader. Following the crackdown, they slapped sanctions on him, as well as further measures this spring when he forced down a European passenger flight to apprehend a Belarusian dissident.

Ms. Merkel’s meeting with Mr. Lukashenko was a “major disappointment,” according to Marko Mihkelson, head of the Estonian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, who complained that it restored some legitimacy to the international pariah who has ruled Belarus for three decades.

Mr. Mihkelson added, “This type of engagement with Merkel produces a somewhat weird image, and furthermore, she skipped Poland.”

He said that the engagement played into the hands of the Kremlin, Belarus’s main patron, by encouraging E.U. officials to interact directly with Mr. Lukashenko.

“Contact has been established between officials of the European Union and the leadership of Belarus,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, said on Wednesday.

According to the German daily Bild, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania were all enraged by Ms. Merkel’s call, which was not cleared with them, and their foreign ministers, who were gathering in Brussels for an E.U. conference, were taken aback.

What leverage Ms. Merkel, the lame-duck German chancellor, may have sought to employ with Mr. Putin or Mr. Lukashenko remained unknown, but conjecture abounds. On the same day, German officials postponed approval of the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, bypassing Ukraine and Poland, claiming a legal snag.

Moscow and Minsk are accused of attempting to use the issue in order to create discord within the EU and depict European border policy as harsh and dishonest.

“Defenseless individuals are gassed and silenced with flash-noise grenades,” Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anatoly Glaz claimed. “There have been casualties.” This is the objective truth of a country’s activities as it continues to educate its neighbors about good democracy and human rights. What’s next, humanitarian bombardment of vulnerable women and children on the border?”

— Steven Erlanger and Valerie Hopkins

An oil refinery in Mozyr, Belarus, on a branch of the Druzhba oil pipeline. Credit… Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko

According to a Russian news article published on Wednesday, a Belarusian pipeline operator has restricted the supply of oil to Poland due to unforeseen repairs.

The Tass news agency’s article highlighted the possibility that electricity may be used as a weapon in the conflict between Belarus and the European Union. Several major oil and natural gas pipelines vital to Europe’s economy pass across the same border where tens of thousands of migrants have gathered for weeks, attempting to gain admission into Poland and the European Union.

However, the likelihood of a large disruption in essential energy supplies were distant since Russia, a staunch ally of Belarus, rebuffed prior threats by the country’s leadership to shut off the energy supply.

A Russian energy official was quoted in the newspaper as claiming that the Belarusian pipeline will be partially blocked for three days due to unforeseen repairs. The stoppage, according to Igor Demin, a spokesperson for the Russian pipeline business Transneft, would not impair long-term supply.

“This month’s plan will not be changed.” The amount of crude oil that had been halted remained unknown. The pipeline has a daily capacity of around 1.2 million barrels.

The oil delay comes after Belarus’s president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, issued a harsh threat to suspend natural gas exports last week.

Mr. Lukashenko said, “We offer heat to Europe, yet they threaten us with border closure.” “What if we shut off natural gas transportation?”

The threat of gas was promptly rebuffed by the Kremlin. Russia will “remain a nation that meets all of its duties in providing European consumers with gas,” according to President Vladimir V. Putin’s spokesperson. The gas continued to flow.

Because refineries normally carry several weeks of crude oil reserves, a short-term suspension of the oil pipeline, known as Druzhba, is less disruptive than a natural gas cutoff. As a result, a short-term shutdown of the pipe would not immediately impair gasoline or diesel supply in Europe.

On Sunday, people were loading suitcases into a vehicle outside a hotel in Minsk, Belarus’s capital. Several Iraqi refugees said that Belarusian security agents instructed them on how to enter European Union nations. Credit… The New York Times is a newspaper published in New York City.

The unexpected influx of refugees from the Middle East to Belarus, which is now at the center of a European political crisis, was not coincidental.

According to Iraqi travel brokers, Belarus’ government relaxed visa requirements in August, making a trip to the nation a more appealing alternative to the perilous sea voyage from Turkey to Greece.

According to European authorities, it also expanded flights by the state-owned airline. Belarusian intelligence operatives then actively helped funnel migrants from the capital, Minsk, to the borders with Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, according to Latvia’s military minister, Artis Pabriks.

Several Iraqi migrants said that Belarusian security officers provided them with instructions on how to enter into European Union nations, including wire cutters and axes for cutting through border walls.

The efforts have been described by European officials as a cynical attempt by Belarus’ dictatorial leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, to “weaponize” refugees in order to punish European nations for hosting his opponents and applying sanctions.

Thousands of individuals are now stuck or hidden at the border in sub-zero temperatures, unable to enter European Union countries and, as circumstances show, sought by Belarus, the country that enticed them there in the first place.

Cities like Sulaimaniya, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, have become busy ports of departure for migrants willing to embark on a costly and dangerous voyage in search of a better life in Europe.

— Elian Peltier and Jane Arraf

Thousands of migrants, largely from the Middle East, have journeyed to Belarus in the hopes of joining the European Union, but Poland and Lithuania, both EU member states, have barred them from doing so. They are stuck in the freezing weather beside the Polish border.

The “Lithuania migrant crisis” is a term used to describe the influx of migrants from Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. The number of migrants has increased significantly in recent years due to the worsening economic conditions in these countries. Reference: lithuania migrant crisis.

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