Belarus May Be Pushing Migrants Into The EU Again — This Time With Russian Help
In 2021, Belarus strongman Lukashenko triggered a migration crisis when he actively drove asylum seekers to the EU. According to the German government, those numbers are on the rise again.
BERLIN — In the nine months between July 2022 and March 2023 alone, Germany's Federal Police registered 8,687 people who entered Germany undocumented after a Belarus connection. This has emerged from the Ministry of the Interior's response to an inquiry by MP Andrea Lindholz, deputy chair of the Christian Social Union (CSU) parliamentary group, which was made available to Die Welt.
The migration pressure on the Belarus route — which was now supposedly closed after a huge crisis in 2021 that saw Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko threatening to "flood" the EU with drugs and migrants — has thus increased significantly again.
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"Apparently, about half of the people who enter the EU illegally every month via the German-Polish border enter the EU via Belarus," Lindholz told Die Welt. In an autocratic state like this, border crossings on this scale are certainly no coincidence, she said. "It is obvious that these illegal entries are part of a strategy to destabilize the EU."
In addition to flexible controls at the border with Poland, stationary ones are also needed, said Lindholz. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser should agree on a concrete roadmap with Poland "on how to significantly reduce illegal entries into Germany." Lindholz also called on the German government to revoke landing permits for airlines that facilitate illegal migration via Russia and Belarus.
The Belarus route had already caused concern throughout the EU in 2021. At that time, sometimes highly dramatic scenes took place at the border with Poland. Thousands of migrants tried to enter the EU undocumented — many of them transported there by soldiers or border guards of Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko. Poland even feared an attempt to break through the border en masse.
The EU accused Lukashenko of flying migrants in an organized manner from crisis areas into his country in order to then smuggle them into the EU — with the end goal of splitting the European Union. The Putin ally denied an active role, but stressed that he no longer wanted to stop people on their way to the EU considering the EU sanctions against his country.
New pressure on Europe
In 2021, more than 11,000 people entered Germany undocumented via Belarus and Poland. The situation only eased when Poland massively tightened border controls. In addition, the EU had increased pressure on airlines that transported people from the Middle East to Belarus.
But now cases are on the rise again.
A particularly large number of people are apparently arriving in Belarus by plane from Egypt in order to move to the EU by land. The flight schedule of Minsk airport lists daily arrivals from vacation destinations such as Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, as well as from Turkey and Russia.
According to Germany's Federal Police, among the nearly 8,700 undocumented migrants who entered Germany via Belarus, 1,330 alone are said to have Egyptian citizenship. This was the third largest group after Syria (3,000) and Afghanistan (1,632).
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko talks to migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border.
Migration is lucrative
According to Christopher Forst, representative for Belarus of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), which is close to the Social Democrat Party (SPD), about 2,500 attempts of undocumented migration are registered at the border with Poland every month. It is hard to estimate how many unreported cases there are, he said. "The route is currently being used again to a greater extent."
But now Belarus itself has an interest in keeping migration out of the focus of the domestic public, he said.
Russia's leadership knows that migration is a very polarizing and divisive issue in the EU.
In 2021, when a large number of people landed in Minsk, numerous arrivals also camped under bridges or in subway stations in the capital, causing unrest and discontent. "That is currently no longer the case," Forst said. Nevertheless, Lukashenko's threat of 2021 to "flood the EU with drugs and migrants" until the sanctions are lifted is still valid.
According to Jakob Wöllenstein, who heads the Belarus office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a political foundation closely associated to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), many of the arriving migrants also carry fresh Russian visas.
"That alone does not prove that the Russian state is deliberately bringing people into the country as 'transit migrants' heading for the EU," Wöllenstein said. "But Russia's leadership knows that migration is a very polarizing and divisive issue in the EU."
He said that Belarus is doing nothing to prevent people from continuing their journey. He added that there are also repeated reports from Belarus that people are threatened with violence if they try to return after a failed border crossing. "So some often remain in no man's land between the border fences for days."
Lukashenko has failed in his goal of forcing the lifting of sanctions by instrumentalizing migrants, says Alexander Moisseenko of the Razam association, an advocacy group of Belarusians living in Germany. "That's why he continues to try to blackmail the EU to get the sanctions withdrawn."
But in addition to destabilizing the situation in the EU, another motivation is likely to play a role, says Anna Kravtšenko, project manager for Ukraine and Belarus at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.
"Illegal migration could serve as an additional source of revenue for Belarusian security services, on whom Lukashenko's regime relies heavily," she says. "After all, illegal migration is a lucrative business for everyone involved — except the migrants themselves."