Europe's New Refugee Crisis
The meltdown in Afghanistan has brought Europe's rancorous debate over immigration and asylum back to the fore. The new front line is the border area between Belarus and its EU neighbors, where politicians are already exploiting the plight of refugees for political gain.
WARSAW – The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has already deepened conflicts elsewhere, including Europe, where a confrontation is escalating between Belarus and its European Union neighbors: Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.
Even before the meltdown in Kabul, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko had been funneling refugees and migrants across the border, both to exact revenge for EU sanctions on his dictatorship and to generate some additional revenue. Belarusian authorities have organized flights from Iraqi and Turkish cities. After charging several thousand dollars per passenger and promising safe and seamless delivery to Western Europe, they have been dumping their human cargo on the Polish, Lithuanian, or Latvian border.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 4,000 refugees have reached Lithuania – a 50-fold increase from 2020 – shaking local communities and roiling domestic public opinion. Faced with the influx, Lithuania and Latvia have introduced a state of emergency. Now Poland, where there have already been several hundred attempts to foist refugees across the border, is joining them. Confused, lost, and hungry refugees are being captured in border towns and forcibly returned to the Belarusian side. Although such “pushbacks” run afoul of the Geneva Convention, EU countries have increasingly relied on the practice.