Commentary. What will happen to the thousands of refugees bottled up at the Polish-Belarusian border?

European disunion and the refugees crushed in the fray

Dumping thousands of human beings on a dangerous border with no prospect of reaching safety—what the Belarusian autocrat Lukashenko is doing—is petty and shameful. Worse, it’s unscrupulously motivated by revenge for EU sanctions after the hijacking of the Vilnius-Athens plane with an opponent of the Minsk regime on board.

It is a dirty game, with human beings as pawns, now struggling against a wall of Polish military, who have assumed the posture of a state of siege in the region, with gunfire, tanks, helicopters, special forces and mass arrests. Six migrants have already died from the cold.

But this does not exclude fundamental questions about the ongoing crisis at the Polish border, which has suddenly become the front line of a new “hybrid war,” where almost the entire world is lined up for a renewed cold war in the middle of the Old Continent. Apart from Lukashenko’s exploitation, the drama of refugees fleeing wars and misery that have us Westerners as protagonists is not propaganda: it is real.

Beyond the geopolitical dimension of the crisis, thousands of people are now stuck at the Belarusian border, forcibly pushed ahead from one side and violently rejected by the other, with a barbed wire barrier in the middle, protected by 12,000 soldiers sent from Warsaw together with anti-terrorism forces.

Three pertinent questions need urgent answers:

  1. If there is blackmail regarding refugees, is there a specific vulnerability of the European Union to be blackmailed in this way?
  2. Are we sure that the only protagonists of the current instrumental crisis are the autocrat in Minsk and the Russian leader Putin, who is considered his protector—while actually, Lukashenko is viewed with great distrust by Moscow because of his dangerous unreliability—and not also two other actors that are already on the scene: Poland and—in a hidden role—Germany?
  3. And what will happen to those 5,000 refugees now (Polish government sources say there are more than 10,000)?

Unfortunately, it is not difficult to answer the first question: the refugee question is the dark underbelly of the European Union, which wrongly considers itself the leader in human rights, and which often abandons Afghan, Syrian, Iraqi and African migrants to their fate and, as an economic fortress, pushes them out.

They call this externalization, involving countries like Libya, Turkey, Morocco, which act as our hired guns and who are building a concentration universe of prisons and concentration camps for this purpose and blackmailing the EU about the management of flows. Yet, blackmail is quietly being accepted in an unequal barter of human beings and funding, in full contempt of human rights. And of memory, since most European countries have participated in humanitarian-motivated interference and in the export of democracy with guns that have destabilized Libya, Syria and Afghanistan: Germany even had a government crisis in 2009 due to a massacre of civilians caused by one of its aerial bombings.

Meanwhile, the Eastern countries, all of which are members of NATO and have toed the line with the US and its wars, are now refusing any redistribution of the load of migrants arriving in Europe and are asking the EU to finance a wall of barbed wire along all their borders—and most of them do not even border Belarus. What now that new walls have appeared all along the so-called Balkan route and beyond, from Hungary to Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and Bulgaria, which is sending troops to the Turkish border?

As for the question about the actors on the stage, how can we fail to notice that Poland, which only 48 hours earlier had been put under indictment by the European Commission for violating the rule of law, has suddenly become the geostrategic bulwark of Europe itself? Now, its request for a wall financed by the EU seems more “credible,” while Warsaw rejects the presence of observers at the site, including journalists and international NGOs, and is refusing the presence of Frontex.

Only a few days ago, Angela Merkel invited Brussels to be more flexible towards Warsaw because of its “historical suffering,” thus opening the way—as Sergio Romano wrote in the Corriere della Sera—for a skewed review of its duties of compliance with the European Treaties.

So how can we fail to see that Germany is also a not-exactly-invisible actor, with Merkel leaving the scene and declaring her regret for her decision to open up to Syrian refugees? This was immediately taken up by the interim Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer: if the media widened its focus from the Polish-Belarusian border to the Polish-German border, we would see hundreds of migrants closed in a corridor of terror in Brandenburg, where an army of policemen and occasional neo-Nazi militias are hunting for the refugees who managed to pass.

And doesn’t Germany’s budding post-election governing coalition have anything to say about this? Now that every German authority is declaring itself in favor of EU funding for the barbed wire fence that a group of countries, spearheaded by Poland, have requested?

It is not only a question of sovereignism conditioning the choices of governments: the Union realized so far appears as an enormous monument of sovereignism, in uncertain balance between two nations, Germany and France. It is anything but supranational, disregarding its own treaties on free movement. Unless, of course, we are talking about the free movement of goods alone.

In the meantime, NATO is on alert. This alliance is responsible for almost all the wars from which the refugees are fleeing, and even the loud voice of the United States can be heard on the crisis, which truly understands building walls against migrants and imprisoning refugee children.

But then, what should happen to the thousands of refugees bottled up at the Polish-Belarusian border? An appeal was put out by four Nobel-prize-winning women writers, the Austrian Elfrie Jelineke, the Russian Svetlana Aleksievic, the German Herta Muller and the Polish Holga Tokarczuk, who, appealing to the EU foreign affairs manager Charles Michel, are putting things clearly: “For us, the European Union is above all a cross-border moral community based on the rules of interpersonal solidarity … We understand that it is not easy to cope with the onslaught of desperation on Europe’s borders. However, what we allow at these borders does not fit our fundamental European values.” They are calling for respecting the Geneva Convention on Refugees: this means welcoming refugees, respect for people and protection of the right to asylum.

That would be the real “humanitarian intervention.” Otherwise, in the grey area of this crisis, a slow but inexorable decline of what we still call the European Union will continue to take place.

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