Belarus’ Lukashenko is accused of creating Europe’s latest migration crisis

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Migrants are seated, after crossing the border from Belarus into Poland in the village of Usnarz Gorny, Poland, in September. An estimated 16,000 migrants have been stopped by Poland’s border patrol for illegally crossing the country’s 250-mile-long border with Belarus since August.

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Raydel Aparicio Bringa (left) and Doniel Machado Pujol are photographed while being apprehended by Poland’s Border Guard in the town of Sokolka, on the Polish border with Belarus. The two men, from Cuba, are among thousands of migrants from impoverished or war-torn countries that the regime of Alexander Lukashenko is accused of luring to Belarus to be sent across the border into the EU.

Grzegorz Sokol for NPR


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Kalina Czwarnog, who works for the Polish humanitarian organization Ocalenie Foundation, says Belarus is orchestrating this migration crisis. She has worked along the border to deliver food and water to migrants trying to cross.

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Polish border guards stand near a group of migrants believed to be from Afghanistan in the small village of Usnarz Gorny near Bialystok, northeastern Poland, located close to the border with Belarus, in August.

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Polish border guards stand near a group of migrants believed to be from Afghanistan in the small village of Usnarz Gorny near Bialystok, northeastern Poland, located close to the border with Belarus, in August.

Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images

When pressed on this point, Prydacz defends the country’s policy:»If we allow more and more people to cross the border, then Mr. Lukashenko, who’s also doing business on this, will invite even more of those people. So what should we do?» he says.

Polish journalist Patryk Michalskiwith the online news outlet Wirtualna Polska says his reporting could support the claim that Belarus’ government profits from human trafficking. Michalskidiscovered a trove of documents left behind by a group of migrants in the forest along the border and shared them with NPR.

Among the tattered and ripped up papers are lists of travelers from Iraq, passport numbers and receipts of payments made to Belarusian travel agencies for flights to Belarus on the state’s Belavia airline. There are invoices of stays at five-star hotels run by the Belarusian government, as well as documents signed by Belarusian officials who helped facilitate the trips.

Belarus has helped build the infrastructure to accommodate these travelers, too. At the beginning of the year, there was only a single flight from Iraq to Minsk, the Belarusian capital. Now there are several flights a week from multiple Iraqi cities. Iraqi Airways says their flights from Iraq to Belarus are sold out through November.

«Suddenly there are thousands of migrants from the Middle East or African countries in Belarus and suddenly, somehow, it is a very popular holiday destination for these people,» says Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Przydacz. «As we all know, Belarus has never been a popular destination where you spend a nice weekend, especially in the autumn or winter.»

Belarus’ leader has himself acknowledged the country is not a final destination. «If someone thinks that we will close the border with Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine and become a filtration camp for fugitives from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, they are mistaken at least. We will not hold anyone. We are not their final destination after all. They are headed to the enlightened, warm, cozy Europe,» he said in July.

As for the Cuban migrant, Machado Pujol, his family says after his latest arrest along the border he was sent back a third time to Belarus.

According to his family, Belarusian soldiers beat him and his companion Aparicio Bringa so badly that they fractured the latter’s skull.

The two men are still along the border, injured, scared and hoping to make it to the European Union.

Grzegorz Sokol contributed to this report from Sokolka and Warsaw.

  • EU migration
  • EU asylum
  • Alexander Lukashenko
  • asylum-seekers
  • Belarus
  • poland
  • European Union
  • Immigration

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