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Repression of Migrants at the Poland-Belarus Border: A Humanitarian Crisis Created by Imperialism

Polish authorities used tear gas and water cannons amid freezing temperatures on Tuesday to force thousands of people to stay in Belarus — and out of the EU.

Frankie Levine

November 19, 2021
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Leonid Shcheglov/Belta/Handout/AFP via Getty Images

The crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border that unfolded on November 16 is the latest symptom in a geopolitical battle as the number of migrants attempting to enter Europe continues to grow. Between 2,000 and 4,000 people are trying to cross the Polish border. Many of them are Kurds from Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East, and have camped in closeby fields for weeks. Polish officials also took over 50 migrants into custody after they managed to successfully cross over from Belarus.

After facing violent repression from the Polish military and border guards, over 1,000 migrants were moved to a warehouse in Belarus next to the crossing, and received their first humanitarian aid from the country in weeks. Balia Ahmed, who entered the warehouse with her two children and husband, told the New York Times that she was nervous about accepting the aid for fear of being deported, but felt she had no choice: “My kids were freezing and about to die,” she said.

The Polish authorities, with help from fellow European Union member states Lithuania and Latvia, have completely militarized the border areas and declared a state of emergency. 15,000 Polish soldiers have now been deployed. Aid workers, journalists, and even doctors are barred, in an effort to curb publicity. This is yet another example of “Fortress Europe,” a term used to describe the inhumane and violent way that Europe controls its borders, and its harsh attitude towards refugees and immigration.

On the other side of the border, Belarus is putting on a humanitarian face, but is actively preventing migrants from returning to Minsk, the country’s capital. Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, currently under sanctions by the EU and backed by Russian president Vladimir Putin, may be following in the footsteps of Turkey, Libya, and Morocco by manipulating migration in an attempt to gain funding from the EU.

Trapped between two reactionary policies, asylum seekers who have been displaced by the War on Terror and European imperialism and interference are forced to spend days and nights in the cold, without access to sanitation, and with little food and water.

Anti-migration policies, like those of the EU’s and the United States, only make the problem worse. They do not curb the flow of migrants, only making the process of reaching asylum more dangerous and dehumanizing. When asylum seekers finally do arrive, they are too often kept in extremely precarious and exploited situations, oiling the wheels of capitalism. 

The current crisis in Belarus is not unlike the one at the U.S.-Mexico border, another example of the terrible consequences of imperialist interventions. Brutal immigration policies in the United States and Europe resulted in the deaths of more than 3,200 migrants in 2020. Xenophobia runs rampant in border countries like Poland and the United States, due in large part to right-wing populists and nationalists like Polish president Andrzej Duda and his idol, Donald Trump. Biden and the Democrats aren’t any better, continuing the same policies as his Republican predecessor.

This anti-immigration sentiment only works to further divide the working class. Immigrants are not a threat to working Americans or Europeans. They are not “coming for your jobs” — they are fleeing countries devastated by imperialist intervention at the hands of corporations and the states that represent them. The global refugee crisis can only be ended by the fall of the capitalist system and the opening of the borders it violently enforces.

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