The situation began changing as relations between the EU and Belarus deteriorated after the 2020 presidential elections followed by mass protests. The result of the election was rejected by the EU, with some of Belarus’ immediate EU neighbors actively supporting Belarusian opposition.
New EU sanctions came after a commercial flight with opposition blogger Roman Protasevich on board was forced to land in Minsk in late May. This was due to a reported terrorist threat, but once the plane landed, Protasevich was immediately detained by the Belarusian authorities. The alleged threat, however, was not confirmed.
The incident sparked outrage from the EU, resulting in sanctions and heavy restrictions on Belarus’ airspace, dealing a blow to the country’s economy. Retaliating for the sanctions, President Alexander Lukashenko said in late June that Belarus will no longer hold back migrants seeking to reach the EU.
“They demand that we protect them from smuggling and drugs. I just want to ask, are you mad? You have unleashed a hybrid war against us and now you demand that we protect you as we did before,” Lukashenko said.
Shortly after Lukashenko’s announcement the country’s immediate neighbors reported a spike in attempted border crossings. Amid the restrictions on Belarusian airspace imposed by the EU, the popularity of flights from Iraq started growing. Early in July, Lithuania declared an emergency after it caught 150 Iraqi migrants illegally crossing from Belarus.
Top EU officials condemned Lukashenko’s move, with the President of the European Parliament David Sassoli accusing him of “playing with people’s lives,” while European Commission chair Ursula von der Leyen said the increase in migrant arrivals showed a clearly “politically motivated pattern.”
While accusing Belarus of waging “hybrid warfare,” its European neighbors scrambled to reinforce their borders with the country.
Lithuania and Poland erected military-grade barbed wire barriers at the most vulnerable parts of the border, with Warsaw recently approving a $400 million project of a permanent border fence.
Minsk has rejected any possibility of negotiating the migrant situation until the EU sanctions against the country are lifted.
“Until these senseless sanctions and efforts to humiliate our people are dropped, we won’t talk to them, and we won’t kneel before them,” Lukashenko said early in September, shortly after unveiling a bill enabling border guards to send asylum seekers rejected in the EU back into the bloc.
On Monday, a caravan of an estimated 1,000 migrants amassed on the Belarus-Poland border, with Warsaw decrying it as the biggest attempt to enter the country “by force” and reiterating its accusations against Minsk of weaponizing migration.
Another video from the scene shows the migrants camping along the border, erecting tents and lighting bonfires, as they apparently plan to stay until they are allowed into the EU.
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