by Sara Oggero
Groups of migrants are stuck in what seems like a black hole, a limbo on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. On the one hand, Belarus doesn’t allow them to return to the country, on the other hand Lithuania is blocking the entry, too. There are Afghans, Kurds and Iraqis, all with dreams of reaching Europe, but stucked right at the gate.
The case has strong political implications and is part of the ongoing crisis in Belarus. The country’s leader Alexander Lukashenko threatened to flood the European Union with drugs and migrants if sanctions were imposed.Moreover, he was accused of providing migrants with tourist visas and of encouraging them to travel to Europe. For several weeks now, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have been denouncing the Belarusian government for “creating” a new flow of migrants from its territory to the European Union in return for the EU support for the regime’s opposition. Lukashenko denies the accusations, however a stream of asylum seekers has formed in the past two months and Lithuania has taken in more than 4,000 migrants, mostly from Iraq and Kurdistan.
Nevertheless, it must be emphasised that in this political diatribe the real victims are the migrants, many of whom do not know when they will be able to cross the border and for how long they will be stuck in the limbo. There are families and children, forced to live in very difficult conditions, surviving by heating themselves with fires during the cold nights. Yet they continue to hope that Europe will welcome them, that their destination is near. No one wants to return home despite the difficulties, as one migrant interviewed said: 'If you have a chance to leave Iraq, of course you will. Even if you have a 1% chance to go you will try.``
In the face of this desperation, the European Union cannot turn its back and pretend not to see any more. In order to prevent a crisis as serious as the one in 2015, it is necessary to give those fleeing the opportunity to enter Europe safely and legally. However, so far none of the actors involved seems interested in intervening. On the contrary, an aggressive nationalism seems to prevail, as shown by the solutions proposed so far. In fact, both the Polish and Lithuanian governments have announced their intention to build a wall on the border with Belarus. Moreover the UN refugee agency UNHCR has said it is “deeply concerned” by border pushbacks and the Lithuanian Red Cross said it doubted they meet countries obligations under international treaties on human rights. The tension on the borders has been described by many as a hybrid war, but first and foremost it should be called a humanitarian crisis.
Europe Must Act stands with refugees and international citizens who are fleeing their countries, and we call for humane, dignified and legal reception of refugees in Europe.
CREDITS: photo Freedom House