Russian paratroopers take part in an airborne assault formation during joint military drills, named 'Zapad-2021,' with Belarus in September. Photo: Russian Defense Ministry

Fake news and fake law make it difficult to understand the highly politicized migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, in the Balkans and on the border between Poland and Belarus.

After separating facts from propaganda and removing the corporate media’s prism of anti-Lukashenko agitation – which has more to do with the fact that the European Union is questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election that took place in Belarus than the migrant crisis on the ground – it is vital to stay factual, concentrate on the actual problem that is unfolding on the borders, and the possible consequences of its mismanagement.

What are the facts?

It is reported that since the beginning of 2021, more than 30,000 migrants from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria have tried to cross the Polish-Belarusian border, and the surge reached its peak in August when more than 15,000 attempts alone were made, according to the Polish authorities.

Although Minsk is accused of luring migrants by offering Belarusian visas and organizing transport to the EU border, and strong language is employed by Warsaw, no hard evidence to confirm these accusations has been provided so far, while the gravity of the allegations would require that such evidence be presented before any further actions are taken.

Also read: Middle East migrants become pawns in new cold war

“This is a political crisis, created to destabilize the EU,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters in Warsaw after talks with European Council President Charles Michel on November 10. “This is a manifestation of national terrorism, revenge by Lukashenko for our support for democratic elections in Belarus.”

Whatever we may think of President Alexander Lukashenko and the state of democracy in Belarus under his rule, the authors of this article find it astonishing that Poland, which according to the Freedom House index published last year, was downgraded from “consolidated democracy” to “semi-consolidated democracy” and labeled this year by a Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) report as world’s “most autocratizing country,” prefers to make the situation on its border even worse rather than find a peaceful solution.

Sanctions not the best course

Despite the ongoing pressure from the West concerning the outcome of the 2020 elections and the set of new sanctions being imposed on Belarus by the EU for allegedly mounting a “hybrid attack” by encouraging migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa to cross the border into Poland, it does not appear that this will move anybody in Minsk.

As a matter of fact, ever since Lukashenko was re-elected last year, he has managed to rescue the economy from recession and significantly increase the country’s trade volumes, importantly thanks to exports to the EU.

Notably, Minsk is the biggest exporter of wood and metals to the bloc, and there is no consensus among the EU members when it comes to restrictions on potash and petroleum imports from Belarus.

The supply-chain disruptions and the Covid-19 pandemic also work in Belarus’ favor. While the former increased demand for Belarusian products such as furniture and machinery, the latter, followed by the country’s loose approach to lockdowns, has contributed to the country’s growth, as a World Bank report suggests. Furthermore, almost US$1 billion from the International Monetary Fund provided in August increased its foreign-currency reserves.

With 36.1% growth in worldwide exports between January and September and 5.8% growth in GDP in the second quarter year on year, and deepening economic and political integration with Russia, Lukashenko does not have much to be bothered about, as far as the economy is concerned.

Military escalation

As the migration crisis on the Belarus-Poland border continues, and tension is rising due to heavy military deployments on the ground, the possibility miscalculating the situation has significantly increased.

On November 10, at the request of Lukashenko, Russia sent two Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bombers to help Belarus navigate the situation at the border. Moreover, two Russian Tu-160 strategic missile-carrying bombers accompanied by Belarusian Su-30SM fighters conducted a joint air patrol “for the purposes of ensuring military security of the Union State [Russia-Belarus],” Russia’s Defense Ministry reported last Thursday.

On top of that, Minsk expressed the need to obtain nuclear-capable Iskander systems from Moscow to deploy in the south and west of the country, Lukashenko said in an interview with Russia’s National Defense magazine.

Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have expressed concern over the crisis on the border with Belarus and said in a joint statement issued by the countries’ defense ministries that the current situation “increases the possibility of provocations and serious incidents that could also spill over into the military domain.”

While Poland, Lithuania and Latvia consider triggering NATO’s Article 4, Latvia has already deployed 3,000 troops on the ground and Ukraine plans to deploy 8,500 additional soldiers and police officers over the crisis on the border with Belarus, it is worth noting that General Nick Carter, chief of the UK defense staff, reminds us of greater risk of an accidental war breaking out between the West and Russia.

“I think we have to be careful that people don’t end up allowing the bellicose nature of some of our politics to end up in a position where escalation leads to miscalculation,” Carter said in an interview with Times Radio on Sunday.

Don’t confuse migrants with refugees

To make the right decision, we must get our epistemology right – something the corporate media deliberately sabotage. For instance, it is essential to remember that migrants are not necessarily refugees, and the legal regime for refugees cannot be carried over to migrants.

On the one hand, the Geneva Refugee Convention provides refugee status to individuals who have a well-founded fear of persecution. However, this convention was not drafted to facilitate mass migration and should not be instrumentalized for that purpose, which would entail a bad-faith interpretation of the text and the intention of the drafters.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that there is no international treaty that declares migration to be a human right or imposes obligations on states to accept migrants. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is silent on the issue of migration. 

The only treaty concerning migrants is the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which does not regulate migration itself, but only the conditions of migrants once they have obtained legal residence in host countries. Only 56 states have ratified this convention – not Belarus or Poland, nor Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, etc.

The corporate media do not tell us so, but international law is absolutely clear on the concept of state sovereignty when it comes to migration. The entry of aliens to a country is exclusively within the domestic jurisdiction of each state. Indeed, it is part of the very essence of sovereignty.

A state may, of course, open its borders to migration, but nothing in international law requires it to do so.

Bearing in mind the potential health, social and economic impacts of migration, no democratic country should simply open its borders without first consulting with the resident population.

Let us not forget that the ontology of a state entails an obligation to defend the welfare of its citizens, and this may in some circumstances require the closing of frontiers, for example because of health, social or economic considerations. Paramount is the well-being and social cohesion of the population of each state.

The way to forward

Given that according to Fabrice Leggeri, director of the EU border agency Frontex, the influx of migrants from the Middle East through Belarus is going to increase and “we have to be ready to … face this situation for a long time,” the authors of this article believe that a great effort has to be made by all sides to bring this crisis quickly to an end and avoid military conflict, which would be disastrous not only for Europe but the entire international community.

Hoping that cool heads will prevail, we find sensible the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Parliamentary Assembly’s recommendation in October that the governments of Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland pool their efforts to ensure access to food, water, medical services and temporary shelter for the people trapped in the border area between their countries.

Bearing in mind that “European values” encompass the Judeo-Christian philosophy of human fraternity and a commitment to assist persons in distress, a short-term solution must be found that overcomes the geopolitical considerations of big and small countries alike.

Moreover, the authors support the idea presented by the OSCE PA’s chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Migration, Kristian Vigenin, that “in the face of challenges presented by irregular migration, it is important to develop a coordinated policy response with all countries along the migration path to prevent further irregular arrivals” – something that has to include direct dialogue with Lukashenko, no matter how strongly we may feel about the country’s current course, as this has nothing to do with the problem that we want to solve.

We very much welcome the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has decided to put political differences with Belarus’ leader aside and chosen dialogue over conflict.

Most important, we must look at the root causes of the migration and try to devise durable solutions, which must include preventive strategies, such as helping rebuild the infrastructures of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, which were destroyed in proxy wars driven by outsiders.

Following Andrew Bacevich’s logic, the authors believe that all parties involved in the destruction of the Middle East should “accept ownership of the consequences stemming from … [this] misguided act,” and admit that in the process, gross human0rights violations and war crimes were committed, resulting in a “push factor” generating uncontrolled migrations.

Prevention means reconstruction so that the populations of the victim countries have a future and can stay in their homelands, where they undoubtedly would prefer to live in a familiar environment, rather than migrating to the West where they risk their own and their children’s lives for an uncertain future.

Alfred de Zayas

Alfred de Zayas is professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy, former secretary of the UN Human Rights Committee, and the UN's independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order from 2012 to 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @Alfreddezayas.

Adriel Kasonta

Adriel Kasonta is a London-based political risk consultant and lawyer. He is an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in Moscow and former chairman of the International Affairs Committee at the oldest conservative think tank in the UK, Bow Group. Kasonta is a graduate of London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). You can follow him on Twitter @Adriel_Kasonta.