Poland-Belarus: how to resolve the migration crisis?

Thousands of migrants are still trying to move westwards across the Belarusian-Polish border in temperatures around the freezing point. Poland has reacted with massive police deployments and is considering calling on Nato for support. Minsk is setting up emergency shelters and the EU is putting pressure on airlines it suspects of bringing in migrants. Europe's press is divided over Poland's harsh defensive stance.

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Le Monde (FR) /

Lukashenka's destructive strategy has failed

Rather than sowing chaos the Belarusian ruler has promoted solidarity in the EU, political scientist Marie Mendras comments in Le Monde:

“Europeans are showing solidarity with each other in face of Moscow and Minsk. The EU and Nato are organising responses but avoiding the trap of military escalation. The most urgent task is to help free those trapped by barbed wire fences, after which discussions about a European asylum mechanism must start. Deterrence through the threat of a major destabilisation is failing. The migration flame lit by Lukashenka will be extinguished by the Europeans, not by Russia. ... As for the dictator in Minsk, he's now totally dependent on the mighty Russian.”

Berlingske (DK) /

Warsaw has sent an important message

The EU should be grateful for Poland's resolute conduct in the border conflict, stresses Berlingske:

“Poland's conflict with the EU over sovereignty has rightly drawn criticism of the country. But the Polish government deserves praise for its resolute intervention against the influx of refugees from Belarus. ... Now it's up to us to show solidarity with Poland, first in the form of the agreed sanctions against Belarus and then also against Putin if Russia interferes more directly. ... This should also send important signals to Turkey not to play with fire. And hopefully also to the smugglers who exploit the weakness of the systems and earn good money doing so.”

15min (LT) /

Don't fulfil the dictators' hopes

In an open letter on 15min, journalist Saulius Žukas exhorts Lithuania's parliamentary speaker Viktorija Čmilyte-Nielsen to respect human rights:

“In these circumstances we must think of the four thousand people imprisoned in Lithuania. Thinking about this will perhaps also help in solving the problems of those freezing at the borders. ... Human dignity is a fundamental legal value. The dictators in the east are just waiting for us to behave like them and disregard our sense of compassion. ... If we treat the newcomers inconsiderately and aggressively, aggression on their part could be the response. So the search for a humane approach is also important for national security.”

Milliyet (TR) /

A credibility test for Europe's values

The people's wellbeing is the least of the EU's concerns, Milliyet believes:

“Europe, which plays the role of the champion of human rights, is not concerned about finding real solutions or sharing the burden, but only about ensuring that its peace is not disturbed. ... For the EU, which puts rights and laws first, the Belarus crisis is a test of its sincerity.”

Göteborgs-Posten (SE) /

National borders are sacred for the Poles

Border security plays a historically important role for the Poles, writes Polish-Swedish guest writer Artur Szulc in Göteborgs-Posten:

“The Polish people have repeatedly had to live through things from which other peoples were spared - the nation had to be rebuilt with great sacrifices. This has left a deep mark on the Polish mentality. ... For many Poles, borders are more than markers and lines on the map. Historical experience has instilled in them a strong need for freedom and independence. And what could be more conducive to this than an intact, protected border? Many Poles view the current situation from the point of view of security. ... That is why they believe that the border must be protected.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Combine border protection and compassion

As temperatures drop, Rzeczpospolita hopes for a quick solution to the border drama:

“The lives and wellbeing of thousands of migrants do indeed depend on Lukashenka. The dictator may be providing food, blankets and sleeping bags, but in his other hand he's holding a rifle. The responsibility for these people also lies with Poland and the EU states. ... But even in view of the obligation to defend our borders and the fact that we are being blackmailed, we must not lose sight of these people who need help. The fact is that a large proportion of those knocking at our door are economic migrants. But there are also those whose lives are threatened at home. Now that winter is approaching, a solution must be found.”

eldiario.es (ES) /

Warsaw's racism not compatible with Europe

eldiario.es is appalled by the Polish government's racist discourse:

“A few weeks ago, two Polish ministers showed the press a photo of a purported migrant having sex with a cow in order to accuse the Syrians and Iraqis who are demanding to be allowed into Poland of zoophilia. It turned out that the photo was from an old porn video. ... The ministers also called the migrants terrorists and paedophiles. ... In view of this behaviour the EU has a political and moral obligation to distance itself from the racist discourse of its Polish partner. ... In this Europe that wanted to be a champion of rights and freedoms people are being stigmatised, mistreated, and locked up in internment camps for foreigners. ... The way is being paved for the justification of crimes against migrants.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Reminiscent of 1938

The EU's inaction plays right into the hands of Lukashenka and Putin, Dagens Nyheter criticises:

“The EU is exercising restraint - as is Sweden. ... Last week the November pogroms of 1938 were commemorated during which stateless Jews were forced to flee and ended up trapped in dreadful circumstances between Poland and Germany. Everywhere they were unwanted. ... Now Europe is once again allowing a dark forest between two countries to become a zone of terror for people seeking a roof over their heads. Lukashenka and Putin want to show that the Western world lacks the morals they themselves don't care about. Given the steady stream of icy testimonies coming from the EU's external border, they should be satisfied.”

Neatkarīgā (LV) /

Unjustified demands from Brussels

Neatkarīgā is outraged by EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson's demand that Poland, Lithuania and Latvia adapt their laws so that refugees are no longer turned back at the border:

“As long as we're dealing with this sort of hybrid operation, the European Commission cannot expect us to change our national policies. Let it take us to court if it wants to. The Commission never gave us a cent to put towards strengthening security at the border. Now it should keep its ideas and comments to itself. When the Commission starts supporting the construction of fences on the border with Belarus, then we can talk about a common migration policy.”

Zaxid.net (UA) /

Germany will take them in

Zaxid.net believes that the future government in Berlin will adopt a new version of Merkel's "We can do it" policy:

“The proportion of pensioners in society is rising. This increases the burden on the pension system and means more workers are required to care for the elderly. The low birth rate also means that the working-age population is declining. ... Accordingly, fewer and fewer people are working and paying taxes. ... We should bear in mind that the Social Democrats and the Greens will form the basis of the next governing coalition in Germany. And both parties are generally in favour of accepting refugees. ... So we can assume that the new government will probably be willing to let migrants into the EU.”

Phileleftheros (CY) /

Belarus just copying Turkey

Phileleftheros points out that Ankara has never been sanctioned for applying a similar policy:

“Although Turkey does not respect the rule of law, although concepts such as human rights and democracy do not exist in Turkey, and although Turkey systematically violates the sovereignty of EU member states such as Cyprus and Greece, it was not sanctioned but instead rewarded with a generous agreement on migration. ... Belarus is only imitating Turkey and hoping to achieve the same results. The EU keeps stressing that the instrumentalisation of migrants is unacceptable. If it wants to be convincing, it must first prove this with its policy towards Turkey in particular. Belarus will get the message.”

De Standaard (BE) /

EU must remain firm vis-à-vis Belarus

De Standaard rebukes Lukashenka for his cynical power games and his threat to stop gas supplies:

“It is unthinkable that the EU would make concessions to a merciless violator of human rights like Lukashenka. If it really comes to a confrontation, the Union must stand firm. There is a good chance that Belarus will quickly buckle, because the country would have little interest in losing its status as a transit country for gas supplies. This also applies to Putin, by the way. He probably cares just as much about the income from the gas trade as Europe does about punctual and reliable deliveries of the fuel.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Estonia's participation not in Russia's interest

In Eesti Päevaleht editorialist Krister Paris takes up the question of whether Putin could be planning to extend the migration crisis to the Estonian border as some commentators fear:

“It's hard to find a logical reason why the officially neutral referee [Russia] should become an active player all of a sudden. Now the refugees are the work of Alexander Lukashenka. Does Russia plan to increase the tensions to such an extent that the front is extended? Just to put pressure on Estonia as well? The more Western allies are involved in the conflict, the more united the response, which from Belarus's point of view is already uncomfortably united anyway. Suddenly Poland's conflict of values with the rest of Europe no longer matters.”

wPolityce.pl (PL) /

A problematic Berlin-Moscow axis

wPolityce is worried that Germany could negotiate a deal with Russia at Ukraine's expense:

“There are signs that the pressure exerted by Lukashenka - and indirectly by Putin - is starting to work. Chancellor Merkel called the Kremlin on Thursday, which is a strategic mistake because this will be interpreted by Moscow and Minsk as a sign of weakness and a willingness to make concessions. On Friday there was another phone call, which points to ongoing negotiations. It's clear from the Kremlin's communiqué that it was also about issues related to Ukraine. ... One cannot help feeling that the strategic bidding has already begun.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

The energy war has begun

La Vanguardia wonders how much Lukashenka can influence Europe's energy policy:

“Yesterday's threat to cut off gas supplies from Russia to Germany over the refugee dispute seems to prove Macron right [in the debate over upping France's nuclear power capability]. ... Germany is suffering more than ever because of its dependence on Russian gas. ... But things are not that simple. Yesterday France was confronted with the fact that a group of EU partners (Germany, Denmark, Austria, Luxembourg and Portugal) have decided that nuclear energy cannot be considered a green option and therefore is not eligible for EU funding. The energy war has broken out with a vengeance at the Glasgow summit.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

And the winner is: Russia

Russia knows how to use the situation to its advantage, Russia correspondent Anton Alekseyev observes in Eesti Päevaleht:

“Minsk started the migration war with the West, probably without asking Moscow. But it has done Moscow a big favour with this. The Russian Foreign Ministry can now loudly express its sympathy with the refugees and blame Europe for not taking them in. The cynicism is obvious. The refugees are moving westwards, not eastwards. If the West takes them in, so much the better. If it doesn't, it remains a problem for Lukashenka. If it comes to an acute conflict between border guards of Belarus and Poland, this would give Moscow an excellent excuse to support its ally. For example, by sending troops into Belarus.”

Der Spiegel (DE) /

There are clear rules that Europe must follow

Refugees have rights, Der Spiegel reminds readers:

“These rights are enshrined in the Refugee Convention, the Convention on Human Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As soon as a migrant enters European territory, he or she has the right to apply for asylum in that country. The European rules are clear. All we have to do is follow them and demand that others follow them too. European solidarity requires that countries of first arrival must not be left in the lurch. One possibility could be to take those people who are not yet on European soil out of the Belarusian-Polish no man's land and let them submit their applications so that the authorities can quickly clarify who is allowed to stay and who is not. Exercising control is not inhumane. Leaving people out in the cold to an uncertain fate is.”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

Rulers polishing up their image

The migration crisis is very convenient for the Polish ruling party, Novaya Gazeta comments:

“Its approval ratings had plummeted because of the abortion ban. ... But now the PiS can chalk up points once again against the opposition's demands that the rights of migrants be respected and they be let in. The death of a young woman [who was denied an abortion], which is already being called murder, has faded into the background, as has the repression in Belarus. There are even conspiracy theories about collusion between Lukashenka and Duda. ... In short, everyone benefits except the migrants, the border guards and the Belarusian people.”

Interia (PL) /

Poles not letting themselves be taken in

Polish citizens are not falling for the government's propaganda, observes Interia:

“Interestingly, Poles seem to have kept their heads remarkably clear in this mess. They don't believe the politicians who claim that we can manage this conflict on our own, which is being hailed as a return to top-level geopolitics. According to a new poll, 82 percent of us think Poland should ask the EU for help to solve the crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border. ... As it turns out, the Poles trust their own judgement on this issue - not that of the government.”

Visokiy Samok (UA) /

Ukraine is next

It won't be long before refugees start showing up on the border with Ukraine, predicts Pavlo Klimkin, who was Ukraine's foreign minister under Petro Poroshenko, in Visokiy Samok:

“Refugees on the border between the EU and Belarus are a typical special operation on Russia's part. The Belarusians, including Lukashenka, are simply being used. Poland, Lithuania and Latvia will find a way to defend themselves, and then the Kremlin will have a reason to bring the refugees to our border. ... Russia will try to blame us for the inhumane treatment of illegal migrants. ... Now is the time not only for the interior ministers of Ukraine and the EU to meet, but for us to remain in constant contact: the current challenges require a joint strategy and joint action.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Warsaw fuelling the crisis

Belarus isn't the only country causing the escalation, The Guardian points out:

“Poland is treating the arrival of these desperate people not as a humanitarian crisis, but an invasion. It has declared a state of emergency at its border, deployed thousands of troops and changed the law to allow summary expulsions, ignoring asylum requests. It plans a Trump-style wall. It has refused to allow EU observers, humanitarian workers or journalists to enter the 3km zone. While Lithuania and Latvia earlier accepted EU help in dealing with crossings from Belarus, Poland has rejected such offers. Locked in conflict over the rule of law with Brussels, Warsaw is exploiting the migrants to capitalise politically on both anti-EU and anti-migrant sentiment.”

Die Welt (DE) /

The EU should be grateful

Poland is doing the right thing and Brussels should acknowledge it, says Die Welt:

“Has the EU learned nothing? When Vladimir Putin bombed Syria in 2015 and Turkish President Recep Erdoğan (and Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras) simply sent the Syrian refugees on, the EU, led by Angela Merkel, let things run their course. The push became so strong that the German state lost control - and as a result, anti-European forces were strengthened across Europe and Britain left the EU. Now Poland has taken the defence of its eastern border into its own hands. Would it be more humane to do nothing - and continue to let people become pawns in a dictator's perfidious game? The EU should understand that Poland is doing it a favour.”

Pravda (SK) /

Fences remain unacceptable

Pravda criticises Europe's double standards:

“When Viktor Orbán built a fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border a few years ago, there was not a politician in the EU who was not outraged. The current fence, on the other hand, is praised as a sign of democracy and stability. How can this be? ... Yes, we must defend ourselves against a targeted attack. But the fence on the Poland-Belarus border is still unacceptable. ... Do we have the right to reject refugees just because their 'transport' has been organised by Europe's last dictator? How is that any different morally speaking from the often brutal, organised crime gangs that organise 'transport' on the EU's southern border?”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Lack of proper migration policy making itself felt

Brussels must finally take the initiative if it wants to be less susceptible to geopolitical power games, demands De Volkskrant:

“The EU has left itself open to blackmail. When it comes to asylum policy, every government is afraid of being punished by voters, which is why no one has stood up for a humane and functioning migration policy in recent years - something Lukashenka can now exploit. ... Migrants will keep banging on the doors of Fortress Europe until safe and legal routes are created for them. This will certainly not solve all the problems, but as long as the EU does not take charge, such humanitarian dramas will keep happening and the EU will remain vulnerable to reprehensible geopolitical games played by people like Lukashenka.”

Avvenire (IT) /

Europe won't be blackmailed

Moscow knows how to capitalise on the chaotic situation, Avvenire comments:

“The Kremlin is taking advantage of the crisis to highlight the disastrous results of Western policies based on the criteria of 'humanitarian intervention' and the 'exportation of democracy', which were pursued clumsily and arbitrarily in both Afghanistan and Iraq. ... However, both Lukashenka and Putin know very well that the EU will not allow itself to be blackmailed, and will not ease the sanctions against Belarus that were imposed after the rigged elections in 2020 and the hijacking of the Athens-Vilnius flight so opposition journalist Protasevich could be arrested.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (RU) /

Moscow shares responsibility as an ally

It's in for a penny, in for a pound for Russia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes:

“Lithuania and Poland believe that the concentration of illegal migrants at their borders is artificial and accuse the Belarusian leadership of orchestrating it. At the same time, Russia is signing 28 integration programmes with Belarus, a joint military doctrine and a concept of a unified migration policy. The latter is particularly noteworthy and opens up different perspectives: Moscow could for example rein in Lukashenka thus putting an end to the absolutely unnecessary incidents on the border with EU states. Or conversely Moscow could cover for its ally time and again, which means sharing responsibility with him - or even having to answer for his moves.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

EU involvement is in Poland's interest

Author Wojciech Maziarskiin voices his lack of understanding for the Polish government's stance in Gazeta Wyborcza:

“I don't even want to think about what would happen if one of the migrants were killed or injured by representatives of the Polish state, the fifth largest country in the European Union. This makes the government's stubborn refusal to accept support from Frontex or other EU countries all the more surprising. It is in the interest of Poland and its government that responsibility for what happens on the border is borne not just by us, but by the entire European community. After all, it is not Poland alone that is the target of the Belarusian regime's aggression, but the entire EU.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Brussels wasted too much time

Radio Kommersant FM says the EU should have sought a political solution much earlier:

“Erecting fences and sending migrants back to Belarus are only technical measures. What is needed here is a political decision, but that is lacking. ... There are not many options: let the migrants in, negotiate with Lukashenko's government and offer a compromise. In other words, give in and admit defeat in this hybrid war - or put maximum pressure on Minsk. The EU should be able to do this, but it would have to follow all the necessary procedures - and that can't be done in a day. ... This should have been taken care of earlier.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Denial of assistance

The EU is complicit in this crime, thunders journalist and MEP Bernard Guetta in La Repubblica:

“Poland is not only betraying itself and the sense of compassion and Christian values to which it claims to be so committed. The entire EU is complicit in a crime: it is neglecting its duty to help people in great danger. The EU is allowing this back-and-forth between Poland and Belarus because it doesn't want yet another bone of contention with Warsaw and because the European Commission and the parliament know only too well that taking in refugees will not wash well with the European public right now.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

EU remains open to blackmail

The EU must do everything in its power to put a stop to this cruel game, demands the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

“There are still political and economic levers, but above all more must be done to stop the flights bringing migrants to Belarus. Unlike other migration routes, these have been set up for purely political reasons. But really this situation just shows once again that the EU must finally hold a debate on the basic principles of asylum and migration policy. Erdoğan once tried to blackmail Europe with asylum seekers just as blatantly as Lukashenka is doing now.”

Onet.pl (PL) /

Don't equate state with PiS

On Onet.pl, publicist Witold Jurasz calls on the Polish opposition not to blame Warsaw for the escalation:

“I don't like the racism coming out of the mouths of PiS politicians, but I also don't like the way some people in the opposition camp no longer view the state as their own because of the - in my opinion harmful - PiS government. ... Poland has become the target of an aggression, an unprecedented provocation. ... There may be acts of violence in the process. But Polish border guards or Polish armed forces won't be the aggressors. And that is why today we should stand on the side of the Polish (not the PiS) border guards and the Polish armed forces.”