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Migrants turned into political weapons

The migration crisis in Poland, with migrants suffering in desperate conditions in a forest as Christmas approaches, highlights the horror of human trafficking and its use as a weapon of political destabilisation. Concepción Lozano reports.

They arrive herded like sheep and prodded with sticks like animals. Covered with blankets and with only a small amount of food, they board buses organised by the Belarusian regime. They are not from the country, not even from nearby. They come from Afghanistan, Syria or Cameroon. It doesn’t matter. Some of them even arrive in Belarus by plane, via organised mafias who charge them thousands of euros for the ticket in exchange for bringing them closer to the European dream.

It’s a dream that vanishes as soon as they come up against the barbed wire fences along the Polish border. On one side a column of Belarusian soldiers who won’t let them turn back (it’s not an option for them anyway); on the other, Polish soldiers who return them ‘like hot potatoes’ if they try to cross the barbed wire fence which has been set up and reinforced to prevent them from passing through.

The EU and NATO have called it a ‘hybrid attack’, a term that has not been used in Brussels until now even though the situation is not new. What sets this crisis apart from others is that perhaps the manner of organisation, the objectives and the purpose of destabilising the European continent are clearer and more emphatic than ever. There’s not even an attempt to hide it.

Belarus is acting in retaliation for EU sanctions (economic and political) imposed in response to actions by the dictatorial regime of Alexander Lukashenko. EU authorities have described such actions as a ‘violation of human rights’.

Belarus, backed by Russia with whom it shares objectives and political aims, decided to fight back by sending hordes, not of soldiers, but of destitute migrants desperate to start a new life on the European continent.  

To this end, it organises their journey, as if it were a macabre tourist operation, and through specialised agencies it transports them from their countries of origin, far away from the EU, to the Polish border. The EU’s external boundary.

The tension has escalated so much recently that military movements of troops, planes and soldiers on both sides of the border have intensified, as each side tries to show the other its teeth. Poland and the European Union on one side of the divide, and Belarus and Russia on the other, these latter well aware of not only their military but also their strategic power in the area.

The people and industries of the EU consumed 394 billion cubic metres of gas in 2020, 43% of which was imported from Russia, according to Eurostat. The Yamal-Europe pipeline, which runs through Belarus, has the capacity to transport 33 billion cubic metres per year to the EU. One of Lukashenko’s threats is to cut off Europe’s gas – at the very gates of winter and in the midst of an international energy crisis.

Faced with this alarming humanitarian and political situation on the Polish-Belarusian border, the Commission of Catholic European Bishops’ Conferences, known as COMECE, issued a statement urging the EU and its member states to express their practical solidarity with migrants and asylum seekers. In an interview with the Spanish online magazine Omnes, its Secretary General, Father Manuel Enrique Barrios, spoke about this difficult situation.

– How do the Catholic bishops of the EU view what is happening in Poland?

With concern. It is saddening that people in vulnerable situations are being used for political ends.

– Combining the dignity of every human life with respect for the sovereignty of a state is complicated. Do you think that in this case a humanitarian approach should be adopted first and foremost?

This is fundamental.

What makes Europe and the European Union what it is, is not primarily economic or even political agreements, but a shared culture of values, and the first of these values is the dignity of every human being.

Therefore, the first thing to safeguard is the humanitarian approach which must take precedence over all others. But, on the other hand, respect for legality and border security is also important.

– Do you think the EU is doing enough to fight human trafficking and illegal immigration?

I think it is trying. In September last year, the European Commission presented a whole package of measures, called the ‘Pact on Migration and Asylum’, which aims to tackle the migration crisis and asylum seekers, respecting their dignity and international legality, but also the principles of humanitarian aid, rescue in distress, and proposing to do everything by sharing the burden among all the Member States of the Union. We know, however, that because of the way the European Union works, where sometimes unanimous agreements between all the states are required, this is not easy to achieve.

-Do you think that European governments adopt selfish positions and a mainly political perspective that does not take into account the humanitarian and tragic context of these situations?

European governments often have to face several challenges at the same time, such as, for example, the growth of populist positions in their public opinion or the fear of citizens of losing their identity, of insecurity and of losing their jobs, especially in a situation of economic crisis. All this, however, does not justify taking selfish and inward-looking positions and closing in on oneself and one’s own borders.

It is also true that the real solution to the migration crisis is to help the countries of origin so that people are not forced to emigrate.

 -In this case, do you think Poland is doing the right thing by containing migrants at its borders despite the human tragedy?

I think Poland is doing what it can in this difficult and unfair situation and the European Union and the other member states have to help Poland. This, however, must not prevent it from acting with concrete solidarity towards these people by providing all the necessary help, because Europe cannot allow people to die at its borders in this way.

For a very powerful recent speech by Pope Francis in a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, where he condemns using people as tools, see here.

This is a translated and slightly edited version of an article which was first published in the Spanish online magazine Omnes. It is republished here with permission. For the original article, see here. For another recent Adamah article on Belarus, see here.

The cover photo of this piece is available at – photo used under the following terms Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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The author bio could be: Concepción Lozano is a writer for Omnes, an online Spanish magazine which offers analysis and reflection on the issues which concern Catholics today.

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