Belarus’ President Lukashenko, accused of causing Europe’s most recent migration crisis

Photo credit: Euronews

By Nathan Otaba,

Doniel Machado Pujol and Raydel Aparicio Bringa claim to have survived for the previous ten days on river water and raw corn kernels taken from dying stalks in eastern Poland’s icy fields. When they left Cuba three weeks ago, they didn’t expect to spend nights sleeping under mounds of leaves and trekking through forests and farmland for days.

“We traveled from Havana to Moscow, and then a man picked us up and brought us to Belarus, where our adventure got a lot worse,” says a famished and injured Machado Pujol, who was apprehended by Polish police after attempting to enter the European Union illegally.

Since August, Poland’s border patrol has arrested an estimated 16,000 migrants for unlawfully crossing the country’s 250-mile border with Belarus.

According to EU leaders, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government is facilitating the unlawful influx of migrants from war-torn and poor nations into Poland and other EU countries. They believe it’s in retaliation for EU economic sanctions imposed on Belarus after the EU accused the autocratic leader of stealing the election last year and orchestrating human rights violations. Humanitarian organizations are now accusing Poland of deporting some migrants to Belarus rather than evaluating their asylum petitions.

The crisis is more personal for Machado Pujol. He resists and screams as Polish border guards arrive to take him back to Belarus “Please don’t return me! They’re going to kill me! Take a look at the damage they’ve done to my limbs!”

The legs of the 29-year-old are swollen, bruised, and wounded, and he walks with a limp. He claims that Polish border guards have already returned him to Belarus twice, and that Belarusian soldiers have beaten him with metal pipes and threatened him with worse if they see him again.

“They don’t care about human dignity or human rights,” he claims. “We’re footballs in a match between Poland and Belarus. No one is interested in us.”

A humanitarian crisis brewing

The two gentlemen aren’t the only ones in this situation. “There are a lot of Iraqis, Kurds, people from Yemen, Syria, people from Africa like Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, and now we’ve had individuals from Afghanistan,” says Kalina Czwarnog, a staff of the Polish humanitarian organization OcalenieFoundation. The organization provides migrants with food and drink, as well as assistance with asylum applications.

She claims Belarus’ government is creating the humanitarian disaster. “They are inviting them to Belarus, where they will be able to pass the EU border. They’ll also acquire a seven-day visa or stamp “she explains.

Belarusian soldiers then accompany them to the border and assist them in crossing. When Polish border guards apprehend migrants, according to Czwarnog, they are obligated to allow them to seek for asylum. Instead, she claims, they’re loading them into trucks and transporting them back to Belarus, where troops frequently abuse them before returning them to Poland. According to Polish officials, at least five migrants have perished as a result of the severe conditions along the border.

Czwarnog is concerned that as the temperature gets colder, more people may perish. She claims she recently came across a group of Iraqi migrants with three little children who were suffering from hypothermia.

“They were freezing,” she recalls. “We couldn’t tell if the youngest child was breathing since we couldn’t see her. We had to warm her up before she could breathe correctly. Because the smaller children were so frail, we couldn’t interact with them “she declares.

Czwarnog summoned an ambulance, and Poland’s border guards took two children and two adults, but returned a six-year-old youngster and five adults to Belarus.

Getting to Belarus costs a Syrian family $16,000

However, not everyone is returned. At a homeless shelter in Bialystok, a Syrian family refused to provide their identities for fear of being identified by Polish authorities. The father, a psychologist whose family fled violence, claims he paid a travel agency $16,000 for Belarus visas and escort to the Polish border. He, his wife, and their two small children were assisted by Belarusian soldiers in crossing a river near the border, after which they traveled for 12 hours through dense forest before being apprehended by Polish border guards.

His son’s spirit, he said, kept him going. “‘Daddy, don’t lose my hand,’ he was just asking to me. ‘Grasp my hand and I’ll continue walking.’ He’s a hero of mine “he declares

He believes Poland did not deport his family because they were suffering from hypothermia, had young children, and a strong possibility of receiving refuge in the EU.

Lukashenko, Poland claims, is using migration as a weapon

The EU has accused Belarus with a series of economic sanctions since last year, accusing Lukashenko of rigging the country’s election and ordering violent crackdowns and other human rights violations, including a forced plane landing in May to arrest a Belarusian journalist.

Lukashenko, backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, allegedly launched a hybrid operation to destabilize the EU in retaliation, according to Poland.

“This current phenomenon we’ve seen there is a type of weaponization of migration,” says Marcin Przydacz, Poland’s deputy foreign minister.

All of these allegations have been refuted by Lukashenko.

Rights groups have also criticized Poland for sending people back to Belarus without processing their asylum applications, in contravention of EU legislation and UN agreements on refugees.

Prydacz defends the country’s position when questioned on the issue: “If we allow an increasing number of people to cross the border, Mr. Lukashenko, who is also a businessman, would welcome even more of them. So, what are our options?” he declares

According to Patryk Michalski, a Polish journalist with the online news outlet Wirtualna Polska, his reporting could back up the assertion that Belarus’ government profits from people trafficking. Michalski came across a cache of documents left behind by a group of migrants in the border woodland and shared them with reporters.

Lists of Iraqi tourists, passport numbers, and receipts of payments made to Belarusian travel firms for trips to Belarus on the state-owned Belavia airline are among the shredded and ripped up papers. There are bills for stays at Belarusian government-run five-star hotels, as well as documentation signed by Belarusian officials who assisted with the visits.

Belarus has also aided in the construction of infrastructure to accommodate these visitors. There was only one flight from Iraq to Minsk, Belarus’s capital, at the start of the year. Several flights each week are now available from a variety of Iraqi locations. According to Iraqi Airways, flights from Iraq to Belarus are sold out till November.

“All of a sudden, there are thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa in Belarus, and it has become a very popular holiday destination for them,” says Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Przydacz. “As we all know, Belarus has never been a popular weekend getaway location, particularly in the autumn and winter.”

Belarus’ president has admitted that the country is not a final destination. “Someone is mistaken if they believe we will seal the border with Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine and turn it into a filtration camp for fugitives from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Tunisia. We are not going to detain anyone. After all, we aren’t their final destination. They’re on their way to a more enlightened, friendly, and welcoming Europe “, he stated in July.

Machado Pujol, a Cuban migrant, was sent back to Belarus for the third time after his latest detention along the border, according to his relatives.

Belarusian soldiers allegedly assaulted him and his companion Aparicio Bringa so violently that the latter’s skull was cracked, according to his family.

The two men are still on the other side of the border, injured, terrified, and hoping to enter the European Union.

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