The humanitarian crisis transpiring on the Belarus-Poland border has generated tremendous controversy with many human rights groups condemning the manhandling and the terrible conditions in which these refugees endure as they try to flee into the EU.
Naturally, the brutal manner and the living conditions which the Belarusian authorities have subjected these refugees is unacceptable.
Belarus and many other nations have time and again weaponized refugee crises and used them to promote their own interests regardless if they come at the expense of the suffering of innocent women and children.
The Belarus-Poland standoff is not unprecedented, but rather a repeat of many previous incidents where neighboring countries governments have realized that using refugees can yield positive results. This can include improving their own populist standings within their own populations, while damaging the reputation of bordering countries. A country refusing to accept refugees is viewed as publicly endorsing poor human rights values, while adopting staunch xenophobic policies.
The many conflicts across the globe exacerbated by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have created eruptions in the sheer scale of refugees in specific parts of the world.
In Syria there are around seven million refugees spread around the globe matching the same number internally displaced. The situation is benefiting bordering Turkey where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan uses the refugee issue as a pawn in attempts to block threats of sanctions from the US and EU.
Almost a year ago, Erdogan facilitated the entry of thousands of Syrian refugees onto the Turkish border with Greece, inflaming an already volatile relationship with Athens. It was a crude attempt to force the international community to acquiesce to Ankara’s growing role in the ongoing Syrian war.
Similarly in Lebanon, the pro-Iran axis represented by Gebran Bassil does not miss an opportunity to remind Europe that Beirut is unwilling to house Syrian refugees. While continuing to place sanctions on Bashar al-Assad the EU itself can take the refugees instead, is Bassil’s view.
These scarecrow tactics have worked and led many western countries to attempt to appease the Lebanese political establishment by throwing money at them with the implicit understanding that Beirut will not allow refugees to escape via the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Giving into threats and blackmail never works in your favor, and unsurprisingly the Lebanese state did not uphold its side of the deal.
Using refugees as bargaining chips also crosses into the realm of economics. The Moroccan-Spanish border crisis is a case in point. While Morocco has tried to use the threat of refugees crossing the short expanse of water into Spain to coerce Madrid into supporting its claims over the Western Sahara, financial investment is also a ploy. Morocco wants the Spanish government to invest heavily in its economy. If Spain does finally agree to financial demands, the Moroccan authorities will crack down on illegal immigration.
The Belarus crisis is perhaps the most vivid example of refugee wringing in recent times. When Alexander Lukashenko - who has remained in power since 1994 - tried to enforce a sixth term in office, sparking nationwide protests he suppressed the legitimate uprising with brutal force. In so doing he provoked the ire of Europe.
The sanctions introduced by the EU did little because of Lukashenko’s support from Russia. His regional patron Vladimir Putin is likely to have rubber stamped the Belarusian despot’s strategy of creating a refugee crisis on the border with Poland. He invited desperate and downtrodden refugees into his country with promises of entry into the EU with the deliberate intent to force the EU’s hand.
Lukashenko has never had a problem killing his own people, so it comes as no surprise that he is willing to expose thousands of refugees to their deaths from freezing, hunger or from the risk of being gunned down by Polish border guards.
It is futile to try to reason with people who will happily use other human beings as cannon fodder.
Trying to address isolated, but recurring attempts to use refugees as political and economic weapons, it is perhaps wise to try to solve the original problem, and remove the reasons why refugees exist in the first place.
Refugees willing to ride the open sea on makeshift rafts or carry infants into the freezing Belarusian woods are victims of serial criminals who displace them from their homes and lands and then turn them into bargaining chips in regional tug of wars.
Many liberals are outspoken about protecting these refugees stuck at the Polish border, but these same voices - and particularly those in Europe - continue to engage with dictators such as Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian allies or Alexander Lukashenko.
They have unknowingly contributed to the tragedy on the Polish border.
Once these simple truths are recognized maybe then the international community can take responsibility for its lack of action and once and for all try to address the roots of the crisis rather than its aftershock.