The new refugee crisis – isolation does not solve the problems

Post photo: barbed wire | © Pixabay

When I started drafting and finally writing this paper in early November, the new refugee crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border had just entered a hot phase. The EU was divided on how to deal with Lukashenko's attempt at blackmail and finally swung to the "hard line" of Warsaw - probably also in order not to leave Poland out in the rain. Conditions at the border became more inhuman, the situation escalated, and an attempt at de-escalation became unavoidable. When considering the developments and connections, it became clear: the EU has old homework to do.

The new refugee crisis – isolation does not solve the problems

These days a small, handy booklet came into my hands. Gesine Schwan, the former president of European University Viadrina in Heilbronn's partner city Frankfurt (Oder) has written a polemic with the devastating title "Europe failed". It is about European refugee policy, the most recent chapter of which has been running since summer 2021 in the forests and swamps of the border area between Poland and Belarus on the eastern external border of the European Union. "The European Union is failing on refugee policy because it is acting contrary to the values ​​it proclaims," ​​writes Gesine Schwan. "We must get out of the impasse of inhumanity as soon as possible." The current policy aimed at sealing off the refugees must be replaced by an agreement of a "coalition of willing states that are ready to take in refugees ... In the voluntary agreement are Refugees are no longer just a burden, but an opportunity.”

Even in the new crisis, the community of values ​​​​EU together with the member state Poland does not cut a good figure. As early as 7.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX my consideration "Where please is Europe? – The new refugee crisis on the eastern external border of the EU' was published it was to be feared that human suffering and misery would happen again. the New York Times reports that at least 10 people have died so far, and it is likely more. Since Poland has declared a state of emergency over the border area, neither aid organizations nor journalists are allowed to enter the border area (, 10.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX:  "Unlike Before, Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders"). 

The Belarusian potentate Alexander Lukashenko, who officially flown refugees via Istanbul to the Belarusian capital Minsk and forwarded them from there to the Polish border, with the permission of the “brother” in Moscow is throwing salt into an open wound in the European Union: the one that became obvious during the 2015 refugee crisis Weaknesses in the EU refugee policy have still not been remedied. Even after six years, the community has not been able to find a pan-European solution to the complex issues of refugees, asylum and migration. The veteran NYT journalist Steven Erlanger names three key tasks for the EU in relation to the current situation, which are difficult to reconcile and solve: 

  1. The EU must be interested in securing its external borders. At the moment it is about solidarity with Poland;
  2. The EU must show empathy as the humanitarian crisis unfolds. "It is difficult for Europeans to ignore the fact that innocent children, women and men - however much they were manipulated into coming - are stuck in the cold between Polish border guards, military and barbed wire on the one hand and Belarusian military on the other."
  3. The EU must stand firm when it comes to the primacy of European law. Erlanger refers here to the recent decision by the Polish Constitutional Court that Polish law takes precedence over EU law. (The year-long dispute over the principles of the rule of law between the EU and Poland cannot simply be ignored in the current crisis).

So what to do in this remarkable dilemma? The complicated situation at the border, which Lukashenko is now "testing out", is not least due to the fact that Poland, among other things, has blocked all attempts to find a European solution to the issues of refugees, asylum and migration.

My first reaction: Leave the Poles hanging...

The poker game with the EU orchestrated by Lukashenko quickly got underway. Lukashenko increased the pressure by having more and more people transported to the border. On the other side of the fence, Poland increased its military presence. The EU discussed new sanctions against Belarus. However, the game was not about chips, it was about people. The question was and is therefore not: Who has the better hand? But: Who can stand the pictures of the people in the forests and in the camps longer. The weakest links in this unworthy game are still the refugees. They were lured to Belarus with all sorts of promises, paid a lot of money to travel to Minsk, were finally brought to the border through state-organized smuggling ... and saw their hopes and expectations vanish in front of the barbed wire fence guarded by the military. Was the desperation in Iraq or Syria so great that they had to accept the flimsy promises from Belarus? Or maybe they hoped that if they put everything on one card, they might end up winning the big prize – Europe? Lukashenko took her money but did not deliver. Whether they took this end of the journey into account when they left their home country is unknown.

My first thought as the crisis worsened was: leave the Poles hanging! But while I was writing and still writing this paper, new tragic and also dangerous reports about what was happening at the border kept coming to my desk. New, dangerous and contradictory developments became visible - how should these be ordered and unraveled as quickly as possible and who could do this? There were the dramatic images that flickered across the screen each night. However, those who only took note of these did not get the whole picture. The background information in the newspapers was particularly important. But there was a problem for the journalists: When Poland declared a state of emergency for the border area and denied access for journalists - and also for helpers - my reaction was: They have something to hide.

On December 14.11.21, XNUMX the Süddeutsche Zeitung about a statement by the Polish police that 50 migrants broke through the Polish border fence near the village of Dubicze Cerkiewne the night before and entered Poland. All 50 people were brought back to the Belarusian border. Four suspected smugglers who were traveling with the group were arrested. These are 2 Georgians, 1 Pole and 1 Syrian. 

A sentence in the SZ report made me think: "The information cannot be independently verified because Poland has declared a state of emergency in the border zone. Journalists and helpers are not allowed in. This also applies to the border area on the Belarusian side"(, 14.11.21: "Police: Migrants break through Polish border fence"). 

The report contains more questions than answers: what exactly happened there? It is probably true that the group of migrants overcame the fence and got close to Poland. It is not reported whether they have applied for asylum there. "Poland is obliged under international law to also allow people who cross the border illegally to apply for asylum", 18.11.21/50/XNUMX: "Seehofer supports Poland's course"). It would also be interesting to learn more about the suspected smugglers who were arrested. Was it actually smugglers from Belarus who accompanied the group to Poland? Or was it Polish helpers who “picked up” the group on Polish territory and provided first aid with food and drink? With the state of emergency, such aid should be prevented because it counteracted the official deterrence strategy. The public does not learn who was arrested in the case described. The public also does not learn how the XNUMX people were brought back to and across the border; Was it really a pushback, as Polish border guards have repeatedly done?  

In another report dated 14.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX quotes the Süddeutsche Zeitung also the Polish border guard. Accordingly, it alone on 13.11. 223 attempts to cross the border illegally. Orders to leave Polish territory were issued 77 times. The explanation in the report: “In plain language: refugees who managed to cross the border were pushed back into Belarusian territory. This practice is prohibited under international law, but was legalized in Poland with a law that came into force on October 26” (, 14.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Whipped and deported").

However, it is known down to the last detail how well organized the refugee action was carried out by the Belarusian side and how the treks were finally marched to the border. First, in August 2021, the visa requirements for travel to Belarus were relaxed. This made the route to Europe – from Iraq or Syria, for example – easier and, at first glance, less dangerous than the dangerous crossing from Turkey to Greece. The state airline Belavia has significantly increased the number of flights to Minsk. There, the refugees were initially accommodated in state-owned hotels and finally taken to the Polish border by buses and also by military vehicles. "Some Iraqi refugees said that Belarusian security forces provided them with tools to break through the Polish border fence" (, 13.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: “Migrants Say Belarusians Took Them to EU Border and Supplied Wire Cutters”).

A series of questions and other trains of thought come to the fore in addition to the originally boundless sympathy for the people trapped between the fronts: It is certainly true that they wanted to improve their future prospects by immigrating to Europe - so they are only "economic refugees" - a derogatory one Designation. They wanted to escape the lack of prospects in their countries and scraped together all their money, went into debt in the family to raise the money for the trip to Europe via Minsk. That Alexander Lukashenko they may have put up with using it merely to gratify his thirst for revenge against the EU. But couldn't they see that the "easy way" organized by Belarus was in fact a dead end? People had a lot of hopes, but they had little information about the chances of success in this detour through the Polish-Belarusian forests. In the end none. The EU could not and cannot play this insidious game. The European Union could not allow itself to be blackmailed by “Europe's last dictator”. The fact that the EU has made itself susceptible to blackmail will be explored elsewhere in this paper. The main drivers of the current crisis are primarily the refugees in the Polish forests. 

There are also questions for the Polish government: Why aren't doctors, helpers and journalists allowed to visit the refugees in the border area? Why is it not allowed to report from the exclusion zone? What is there to hide? Why has the Polish government blocked all attempts to develop a European concept for the problems of refugees, asylum and migration since 2015? And one last and fundamental question for the state and society in Poland: Why were and are refugees/foreigners downright “of the devil” and must be deterred by all means?

Back to the title of this chapter of my paper. Would it make sense to leave Poland “hanging” at the border with the crisis? The question is to be answered with "No". Poland, left to its own devices, would not be able to solve the "new" refugee crisis. Barbed wire and tear gas are not enough to solve the tricky situation. This also includes diplomatic skills. What happens when only targeted shots are fired? The previous behavior of the PiS government and previous statements from Warsaw show not only reservations but also a fundamental aversion and rejection of everything that comes from outside. And yet Polish society has hardly any experience with migration.

The reactions of the PiS government to the German Chancellor's telephone conversations with Lukashenko on November 15.11 are dubious and need to be addressed in more detail. That was not a good step, Merkel had "in a certain way" accepted the election of Lukashenko (Heilbronn voice, 18.11.21:  Merkel criticized after phone call with Lukashenko").    

Hardness alone does not bring relaxation

About that Alexander Lukashenko who organized refugee treks to the border to blackmail the EU has been repeatedly reported in recent months. A secret paper from the federal government warned against such methods as early as the spring (, 27.10.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "When Men Become Weapons"). For Lukashenko it's not about the people, for him the end apparently justifies the means. In another report by Süddeutsche Zeitung he is quoted as having made a similar threat against NATO in 2002: “They will crawl and beg for cooperation in fighting drug cartels and illegal immigration. And if they don't pay, we won't protect Europe from these floods either.” At the time, he was interested in attending a NATO summit in Prague, to which he was not invited. After almost 20 years, he is now trying again with the refugee scam. “The Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko coolly exploits Europe's panic fear of migrants. The tactic is not new - and the EU itself is to blame for the fact that it always doesn't work," the SZ report notes. "Lukashenko's game with the hopes of the fugitives is as dark as Europe's helpless, dubious reaction: more barbed wire, more soldiers, more arguments" (, 14.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Desperate and Doubtful"). 

The Polish government also knows how to swing the refugee club and, last but not least, to use it for propaganda purposes. The Polish Minister of Defense made a corresponding appearance Mariusz Blaszczak and the Minister of the Interior Mariusz Kaminsky at a press conference on 27.9.21/XNUMX/XNUMX. The two ministers were concerned with defending the hard line against refugees and migrants and with extending the state of emergency at the border, which was then also passed in Parliament. "Competent authorities" checked several hundred refugees who had arrived in Poland: one in four apparently had "a criminal past, including links to terrorist groups." Abominable footage was shown that allegedly came from the refugees' mobile phones: executions of hostages, photos of naked small children or sex with a cow. The conclusion of the Polish Minister of the Interior: Many of the refugees who have crossed the border into Poland are "a serious threat to national security."

However, the material presented had a crucial catch: it did not come from the mobile phones of the refugees who had come to Poland, but had been circulating on the Internet for years. But here, too, the end seems to justify the means: "According to new surveys, the government's previously fallen popularity has risen again since the beginning of the refugee crisis and the warnings of an alleged threat to Poland's security" (, 30.9.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Death on the Border"). 

The question remains: How credible are the government reports on what is happening at the border? The xenophobia that speaks from this attempt at a blanket denigration of people from non-European countries does not become the government of an EU member well. Can such a government be a model of tolerance and cosmopolitanism for its citizens?    

NATO is alarmed - but not because of a few thousand refugees

On 17.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX in the New York Times revealed one of the differences between the current situation on the Polish-Belarusian border and the 2015 refugee crisis. At that time, more than a million people, mainly from Syria, flocked to Europe. “Six years ago, some countries, notably Germany, were willing to accept, while others, including Poland, refused and admitted at most a few; there was a conflict with the EU leadership. But there was never a danger that an armed conflict could arise from this.” And so brings the New York Times the current situation in a nutshell: "No one is willing to take in the migrants today, even though they are in a life-threatening situation. The EU stands united behind Poland, which sees itself as the community's first line of defence; while Warsaw and Minsk exchange massive threats" (New York Times-The Morning- 17.11.21/2015/2014). What is not mentioned here, however, is that some EU member states are forced to support Poland, but view some of the actions at the border - such as the pushbacks and the refusal to accept asylum applications - with queasy stomachs. However, it shows how complicated the current situation is in contrast to XNUMX: The number of refugees today is absolutely not comparable with the numbers at that time. However, Belarus is still able to use the refugees as leverage against the EU. The EU has no other option than to accept the border closures and the tough measures taken by the Polish government – ​​it does not want to give in to the blackmailer Lukashenko. Poland of all places has blocked all attempts by the EU to develop a common refugee and migration policy in the past. What a complicated and unsatisfying conundrum, made even more dangerous by being set in a highly insecure region and driven by politicians looking to capitalize on that uncertainty. In XNUMX, Putin and his "green men" sacked Crimea. The Foreign Office in Berlin describes the process as an annexation that violates international law. At the same time, Moscow is stoking the “forgotten war in Eastern Europe” in eastern Ukraine, which, despite the Minsk Agreement and several ceasefire agreements, keeps striking new sparks. On some front lines in eastern Ukraine, separatist troops and the Ukrainian military are within sight of each other. What can result from this was reported recently by the New York Times in a lengthy report entitled "How a Food Dispute Led to Artillery Shelling in Ukraine." This border is called the “New Berlin Wall”, a border line in today's geopolitics that leads through partly abandoned villages and forests. "It's a powder keg where a matchstick is all it takes to ignite new hostilities," she writes NYT. The incident referred to took place in the no-man's-land between the two military lines that villagers have to cross to shop and children to go to school - the situation is unsafe and protected only by the fragile ceasefire.

The disaster for the small Ukrainian town of Hranitne began when the separatists, for an unclear reason - perhaps as a precaution against the pandemic - closed a checkpoint that residents used as a passage to the shop. The community leader therefore wanted to have soldiers build a bridge a few hundred meters away. “This is our village. These are our people. They walk several kilometers to buy groceries,” the man explained. But the separatists interpreted this action differently and began shelling the construction site. The Ukrainian side then requests air support from a drone. The exchange of fire lasted until the next morning. The bridge construction site was not hit, but several houses were destroyed. “Russian jets roared over the border. The next day, railroad cars loaded with tanks rolled up to the Ukrainian border... Diplomats in Berlin, Moscow and Washington shifted into high gear... In the West, there are fears that Russia could use the skirmish as a prelude to another invasion of Ukraine, and with it a new one phase in the conflict with the USA and Europe" (, 15.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: “How a Dispute Over Groceries Led to Artillery Strikes in Ukraine”).

Putin may well be aware of the risk involved in such incidents, but he accepts it. This allows him to keep the US and Europe in constant excitement. When asked what goal Putin is pursuing, answered Asta Skaisgiryte, the foreign policy adviser to the Lithuanian President, clearly and succinctly: “Restoring the Soviet Union” (, 19.11.21:  "On Putin's Strategic Chessboard, a Series of Destabilizing Moves"). Two reports from Süddeutsche Zeitung underline the seriousness of the situation:

  • "Ukraine and Lithuania warn of Russian troop deployment" (, 15.11.21);
  • "Russia strengthens troops on the border with Ukraine" (, 17.11.21).

All of this shows that the planned virtual meeting between Biden and Putin is overdue.     

The Uncertainty FactorAlexander Lukashenko"

The Russian President Vladimir Putin is able and able to place his pieces on the geostrategic chessboard with care and long-term planning. He will move them when the risks are controllable. Here there are opportunities but also a major challenge for Europe and the new federal government. In the current refugee conflict, he undoubtedly played along and kept Lukashenko on a long leash – despite all the denials from Moscow. But to what extent can Lukashenko be “led” at all? The current crisis is certainly playing into Putin's hands. "Putin sees nothing better than a helpless Europe," writes Silke Bigalke in a comment of Süddeutsche Zeitung (, 15.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "The EU should be afraid of him"; comment by Silke Bigalke). Putin and Lukashenke certainly agree on the goal of unsettling the EU and creating confusion. But the dictator in Minsk apparently wanted to go one step further when the EU decided on further sanctions against Belarus. He threatened to stop Russian gas flowing through Belarus to Europe. "That would not be good," Putin said on 14.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX; Lukashenko probably spoke in anger. "The ruler in Minsk was never predictable, even for the Kremlin," wrote Silke Bigalke in her comment and asked, "Can the Kremlin even stop the dictator?" This uncertainty factor "Alexander Lukashenko’ the European actors must always take into account.

On November 17.11.21, 2.000, Lukashenko had around XNUMX refugees transferred from the immediate border area to a warehouse in the hinterland, thereby easing the tension at the border crossing, where Poland had previously used water cannons. Several hundred Iraqis have been flown back to their homes, but most are still stuck in Belarus and it is unclear what Lukashenko will do with them. reporter the New York Times asked refugees in the warehouse about their plans, and they said they had no intention of returning to Iraq. "I want to go to Germany, but if that's not possible, I'll stay here," replied a 21-year-old Kurd from Iraq. Another stated that Belarus wasn't his first destination but "it's still better than going back to Iraq" (, 17.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: Risk for Leader of Belarus: Migrants He Lured May Want to Stay”). These migrants will probably still be amazed at how an authoritarian state deals with such personal wishes. It is still unclear what Lukashenko will do when he realizes that he has found himself in the situation of a sorcerer's apprentice who can no longer get rid of the spirits he has called. His spokeswoman Natalia Eismant after the first Merkel telephone call with Lukashenko, named the total number of 7.000 migrants who are in Belarus (, 18.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Seehofer supports Poland's course").

The latest developments in Eastern Europe, especially in the border area between Ukraine and Russia, make it clear that it is not the refugees who are threatening the peace and security of the EU. The Polish government has repeatedly stated that non-European migrants are a threat to Polish culture and sovereignty (New York Times-The Morning, 17.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX). The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Marawiecki recently said in Berlin: "We protect Europe from another migration crisis". But in addition to such statements, the domestic political situation in Poland must also be considered, where the PiS government relies on far-right and nationalist movements in the country. Groups of young men were present at the demonstration on Poland's Independence Day (11.11.21), chanting "Hail Greater Poland" and "Border guards, open fire" with their right arms raised. In the report of New York Times it is noted that there were many peaceful people on the train who wanted to celebrate Independence Day (, 11.11./12.11.21: "Migrants in Peril, and Raw Emotions, in a Volatile European Border Standoff"), but Nazi posturing in Poland fits badly.   

If one includes the described tensions in Eastern Europe in the consideration of the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border, efforts to ease the tension were unavoidable. That Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron picking up the phone shows a high sense of responsibility. One of the highest goals of the European Union was and is the maintenance of peace in Europe. The Belarusian dictator gambled, the EU could not and cannot get involved in such a game. The border crisis must not escalate into another powder keg. 

Intermediate consideration – refugee region of Northern Iraq / Kurdistan

Why are there so many Kurds from northern Iraq among the migrants at the border? The world still seems to be in order there – at least from afar. But appearances are deceptive. It sounds good to recommend young migrants from crisis areas to stay at home and build up their own country. But the incentive to do so is not very high when one has to expect that the fruits of one's labor will be reaped by others.

Excerpts from a report by Süddeutsche Zeitung – (, 28.11.21):

"In the Grip of the Clan Parties" by Thor Schroeder, Beirut

“Thousands of students are taking to the streets in the autonomous region of northern Iraq. They are protesting against conditions that are causing many other young Kurds to flee to Europe...

The Social Researcher Mera Jasm Bakr is currently researching the reasons for young Kurds to leave their homeland for the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation. Thousands have set out for Belarus in recent months to travel from there to the EU or further afield. "A lot of them are college graduates who can't find jobs or at most $200 a month jobs if they're lucky," Bakr said. At the same time, the price of oil rose again. So the government would have money for reforms and aid...

Dastan Jasim researches the situation in Kurdistan at the Hamburg Giga Institute for Near East Studies. Previous protests in 2011, 2018 and 2020 showed that the structural problems had never been solved. The demographics - 60 percent of the population is under 30 years old - exacerbate the situation. Jasim says of clientelism: "If you don't belong to either party, you're out on many levels."...

The students' complaints echo those of other people in the region. Most describe a society in which without connections to the powerful or personal wealth it is difficult to build a liveable existence.”

Thor Schroeder, "In the Grip of the Clan Parties" (28.11.2021)

My personal comment: We often know too little about the situation where the refugees and migrants come from.

Relaxation at the border – what now?

On November 17.11.21th, 20.11, the ARD Tagesschau reported a first relaxation at the border. Just the day before, there had been violent attempts by refugees to get over the barbed wire barrier. The Polish border guards, on the other hand, had used water cannons. On XNUMX/XNUMX reported the Heilbronn voice, that since Merkel's phone calls on 15. and 17.11. the violent excesses have subsided and the supply situation has improved. On 18.11/2.000 around XNUMX migrants were housed by Lukashenko's authorities in a warehouse near the border. “Many people want to go to Germany” – Merkel’s phone call with Lukashenko raised hopes, the report says (Heilbronn voice, 20.11.21/18.11/28: "Migrants are holding out in Belarus"). In addition, EU diplomacy had the effect that a number of airlines no longer flew refugees from the Middle East to Minsk. For 29.11.21. a first flight with Iraqi refugees back to Iraq was planned. At the weekend (November XNUMX/XNUMX, XNUMX) hundreds of Iraqis voluntarily used the repatriation flights of the Iraqi Airways; According to the Belarusian authorities, there have been five flights for a total of around 1.900 people (Heilbronn voice, 29.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: “Hundreds of migrants leave Belarus”).

All of this relaxed and relaxed the situation in the immediate border area and made further steps possible - such as the involvement of the Red Cross or the UN refugee organization UNHCR. Polish Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik already said on 16.11. a radio station: "It looks like Lukashenko has lost this battle for the border" (, 17.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Polish government: Belarus takes migrants away from border"). But it's still too early to celebrate victory. In my opinion, they are only appropriate when the long overdue "European solution" has been found, which has not least been blocked by Poland.

After the relaxation at the border, it was and is now possible to organize and evaluate what happened before. First of all, it was important that the escalating violence could be equalized directly at the fence. There, in some places, an increasingly narrow corridor had formed: Two military lines had drawn together and between them, between armed Polish and Belarusian soldiers, sat the overheated and frightened refugees. What would have happened if this confrontation had further escalated? What if shots were fired and the powder keg exploded for no good reason? The German Chancellor and the French President correctly recognized the dangers and picked up the phone. 

Government spokesman Seibert explained on 19.11. Details of Merkel's talks with Lukashenko. He referred to the “worrying humanitarian situation into which thousands of people have been pushed by the Belarusian government. The chancellor conducted the telephone calls “in order to improve or even resolve this situation. In such a situation, it also makes sense to talk to those who have the opportunity to change something in Minsk. This is also the case "when it comes to a ruler whose legitimacy through the presidential election to which he refers, we, like all our European partners, do not recognize" (, 19.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Belarusian opposition criticizes Merkel").

It is impossible to overlook what ultimately led to this initial relaxation. Perhaps Lukashenko had also received a hint from Moscow. Perhaps he also realized that he had gambled his way into a dead end and now has several thousand refugees in the country and has to take care of them. He will not be able to cope with this task without outside help. This realization may also have contributed to lowering the pitch of his statements somewhat. 

I was surprised that the chancellor in particular was criticized for her initiative. She had on 15.11. talked to Lukashenke for about 50 minutes and again on November 17.11th. phoned the ruler. French President Macron spoke on November 15.11. almost two hours with Putin. "The aim of this call was to put an end to the crisis" (, 15.11.21: Merkel on the phone with Lukashenko"). Merkel was criticized by the Belarusian opposition, Lithuania and especially Poland for her initiative with the aim of de-escalation. A spokesman for the Belarusian opposition said it was very important for the people of Belarus that Lukashenko not be recognized as president. "We understand the difficult, dramatic situation of migrants on the border with Poland. But the Belarusians are in the same position as the migrants. They are victims of the worst repression in Europe since the Second World War" (, 19.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Belarusian opposition criticizes Merkel").

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabriel Landsbergis described Merkel's phone calls as a "dangerous path". "Dictators and authoritarians are known for not obeying the law." They also did not necessarily adhere to agreements (, 19.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Belarusian opposition criticizes Merkel").

Merkel received triple fire from Warsaw. The Polish government spokesman said Merkel's phone call was "not a good move" as it was "in a way" the acceptance of Lukashenko's election.

The Polish President Andrzej Duda argued the way the Polish government has repeatedly argued against Brussels: “We are a sovereign country that has the right to decide for itself. And we will exercise this right under all circumstances.” Poland will not recognize agreements that are … concluded over our heads (Heilbronn voice, 18.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Merkel criticized after phone call with Lukashenko"). 

In addition, the Polish Prime Minister intervened Mateusz Morawiecki and warned of "millions" of migrants coming to Europe and called on the new German government to stop the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline immediately. He said the picture newspaper, he will meet with the probable future chancellor Olaf Scholz get in touch and tell him personally: "We are defending the EU border here in Poland" (, 18.11.21/2/XNUMX: "Poland calls for the end of the Nord Stream XNUMX pipeline"). I think Morawiecki's assessment of the situation in the crisis area is remarkable: it is stable, with a growing risk. He did not want to rule out the possibility of war.

Morawiecki's statements show that he is well aware of the overall dangerous situation. However, I cannot understand his and other Polish politicians' public criticism of Merkel's and Macron's efforts to ease this situation. Perhaps the PiS politicians are counting on their toughness against all non-European people who want to come to Europe – by whatever route – to pay off in the next elections in Poland. Perhaps with their references to "defending Europe's borders" they count on an improvement in their standing in the EU. 

In particular, the accusation that Merkel's telephone conversations with Lukashenko were "in a way" the acceptance of Lukashenko's election turns out to be flimsy and something like criticism for criticism's sake. Developments on Ukraine's eastern border have been dangerous and worrying enough; it made perfect sense not to allow another area of ​​tension to develop. When need and danger are great, action must be taken, whether the other side is agreeable or recognized. An example of this is the recent trip by German diplomats to talk to representatives of the internationally unrecognized Taliban regime about ways to evacuate German nationals, former local German officials and other Afghans who are particularly vulnerable. This depends on the Taliban's willingness to cooperate. “There is no talk of reopening the embassy there. But the federal government does not want to let the thread of the conversation with the new rulers be broken,” says the report Süddeutsche Zeitung (, 19.11.21: "German short trip to Kabul"). Is the government to be criticized for this? "Several hundred people have been able to leave the country in the past few weeks and have received visas for Germany," writes the SZ.

And another country is negotiating with the unrecognized Taliban regime. On 1.12.21 reported the Southern German newspaper: "US and Taliban talk again". It is reported that the US delegation led by the special representative Thomas west pledged to continue to support the efforts of the United Nations (UN) to deal with the crisis situation. The delegation also expressed concerns about respect for human rights and urged the Taliban to implement their pledge to provide women and girls with access to education at all levels nationwide. (, 1.12.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "USA and Taliban talk again").

Perhaps such difficult and complex issues are too complicated for the Polish government? It may be that for them there are only the "good guys" and the "bad guys". But today's world is not that simple.   

As if in a concave mirror, the tricky situation of EU refugee and migration policy became visible when German politicians also spoke out after the Merkel phone calls. On 15.11/17.11 and 15.11. Merkel had phoned Lukashenko. The French President also had on 18.11. phoned Putin. Shortly thereafter, the Poles reacted critically, almost insulted, and felt that their sovereignty had been violated. On 2015/XNUMX Interior Minister Seehofer traveled to Warsaw to discuss the crisis at the border. Last but not least, it may have been about not letting the public banter about the Merkel phone calls escalate any further. In memory of Seehofer's constant criticism of Merkel's policies after the refugee crisis in XNUMX, he must have been warmly received in Warsaw. 

Wie die Süddeutsche Zeitung reports, Seehofer understood his trip primarily "as a gesture of solidarity with Poland" (, 18.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Seehofer supports Poland's course"). The Federal Minister of the Interior had declared that Poland's actions on the Belarusian border were "right". He thanked his counterpart for his "clear course". The report does not mention whether Seehofer internally addressed the illegal pushbacks of refugees by the Polish border guards or once again mentioned the overdue "European solution" to the refugee and migration problem, which he has repeatedly called for recently and which, among others, comes from Poland was and is persistently blocked. A public statement about it, for example in the press conference, would have pushed Poland even more into a sulky corner. So the SZ could not report specifically about it. However, there are two important sentences in the report: “According to international law, Poland is obliged to also allow people who cross the border illegally to apply for asylum. In fact, the migrants are sent back to Belarusian territory.” Here, too, it remains unclear whether Seehofer's approval of Poland's actions at the border also apply to them. I see a similar dichotomy in statements made by the Prime Minister of Saxony Michael Kretschmer, which this already on 26.10. made in Brussels. “I would like this European Union to be strong now and to straighten its back. We mustn't allow ourselves to be blackmailed by a dictator like that.” Lithuania, Latvia and above all Poland should get all the support they need. "Only when the border there is tight and people can no longer be smuggled in will this phenomenon come to an end" (, 27.10.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Kretschmer: "We need fences and we probably also need walls"). I added the last sentence of Kretschmer's statement with the words: "...and starts again at a different point!" It is certainly true that the EU must not allow itself to be blackmailed by "such a dictator". But the EU will not succeed in erecting fences and walls along its entire external border in order to end "this phenomenon" (the worldwide flight and migration movements). Kretschmer also did not mention the long overdue European overall concept of “refugees, asylum and migration”; consciously, out of consideration for Poland, or unconsciously? If the EU does not soon agree on such an overall concept, which not only builds on isolation but starts where refugee movements arise and, above all, expands the legal immigration routes to Europe and also effectively organizes integration in the host countries, someone will Potentate start the next blackmail attempt. 

Of course, the EU will not be able to solve the global refugee and migration problems alone and definitively. But the way things have been going in Europe so far, there will be no satisfactory solution here. Poland and other countries that have blocked until now must either rethink or accept that the "willing" will try to solve the problems alone and without the blockers.

Subchapters: The struggle for the future of the EU is in full swing      

In an interview published on 30.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX in the Heilbronn voice was published, has the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki reiterated that Poland was protecting Europe from another migration crisis. Poland deployed 15.000 border guards and 15.000 soldiers; the border is pretty tight. He again accuses the Chancellor of having contributed to the legitimacy of his regime with her phone calls to Lukashenko, while the fight for a free Belarus has been going on for 15 months. On the subject of "Nord Stream 2", he expresses himself a little more cautiously than in an earlier interview: "I expect that the new German government will do everything possible to prevent Nord Stream 2 from becoming an instrument in President Putin's arsenal." But he did With the old Polish demand for reparation payments from Germany for damage caused by Germany in Poland during the Second World War, opens another front line in the tense relationship with Germany. 

At first glance, Morawiecki's answer to the question of whether the new crisis could unite a Europe that had long been divided on refugee policy appears ambiguous and even seemed to indicate a willingness to find a "European solution". First, Morawiecki says asylum policy should be the prerogative of a sovereign state, adding: "But we should develop a common migration policy at European level."  In this respect, unity in Europe is much greater than it was three or four years ago.

But what Morawiecki says immediately afterwards destroys all hopes of a European migration policy that leaves the principle of isolation and deterrence behind. “Previous refugee policies have proven to be wrong. Most EU countries, with the exception of one or two, have understood that we cannot have an open-door policy and multiculturalism.” He works with terms and images that would have been well received in conservative circles in Germany a long time ago, today ended up in the right-wing extremists' toolbox. Convinced Europeans would never use the negatively connoted empty phrase “multiculturalism” when describing what is in Article 2 TEU – for example with the terms pluralism, non-discrimination and tolerance. Here it becomes clear that the Polish Prime Minister only accepts a “common migration policy at European level” based on the Polish model. This objective is also illustrated by the Polish law on border protection, which was passed in the Polish parliament on November 29.11.21th, 1.12.21 and came into force on December XNUMXst, XNUMX. After the state of emergency imposed for the border area, which among other things prohibited entry for non-residents, refugee helpers, doctors and also journalists, can no longer be extended on the basis of the constitution, the same restrictions are made possible by a simple law. According to the Legal Service of the Polish Senate, the new law contradicts the Polish Constitution (, 1.12.21: "EU Commission wants to soften asylum law"). 

Even a legal layman is faced with the question of how a simple law can legitimize state action that the constitution prohibits. The question needs to be asked again: what does Poland have to hide in the border area with Belarus that foreigners, journalists and aid organizations should not see? ´The legal service of the Polish Senate found that the new law violates the right to freedom of movement, freedom of demonstration and assembly and the right to freedom of the press and freedom of information. 

It shows that what began as a refugee crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border, instigated by the Belarusian dictator Lukashenko, and escalated into a security crisis in Eastern Europe, also became a crisis affecting the fundamental values ​​of the European Union. The struggle for the future of the EU is in full swing.

Are there already winners and losers in the crisis?

Can we already foresee who will be the winners and who will be the losers in the new refugee crisis? It is already clear that the refugees and migrants are the absolute losers. Your hopes – awakened and rocked by Alexander Lukashenko - have not been fulfilled. They were misused by Lukashenko to blackmail the EU, because the EU could not play this blackmailing game. To resist blackmail, Poland -- more or less with EU approval -- has "defended" and sealed the border.

Lukashenko is the second loser. He did not achieve his original goal of overturning the EU sanctions against Belarus. The EU has remained firm and has even imposed additional sanctions. On top of that, he could not “get rid of” the refugees he had lured to Belarus across the border into the EU. the New York Times describes Lukashenko's problems that left him in an awkward position: what to do with all the people he had lured to Belarus and whose onward travel to Europe was blocked? They could quickly become a heavy burden on his own country (, 18/19.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Belarus Clears Migrant Camp, Easing Border Standoff With Poland"). And he had also made concessions to his neighbor Putin that tie his country even more closely to Russia.

However, Lukashenko has succeeded in one thing. Although he tried in vain to blackmail the community of values, he "presented" them with one of their unsolved problems. The autocrats of this world - such as Erdogan in Ankara - will study the incident carefully and consider whether and how they could "operate" in a similar way. But this time Erdogan may have been too risky to continue playing. Turkish Airlines was one of the airlines that responded quickly to pressure from the EU and stopped flying migrants to Minsk.

Poland – as the government in Warsaw sees it – is the winner of the dispute. "We are protecting Europe from another migration crisis," said the Polish Prime Minister in the Heilbronn voice printed interview explained. He did not say what happened in the border area sealed off by emergency measures. Gradually, the experiences of the migrants are reported; they were treated equally inhumanly on both sides of the border.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung tells the story of the two brothers Omar and Mohammed from Baghdad, who actually made it to Germany via Belarus, where their brother has lived since 2015 and is training to be a social worker. They found out about the route via Minsk Youtube and Facebook: "The social media was full of it" - "including Russian channels that spread this information in Arabic languages." After several failed attempts, the two brothers - controlled by traffickers via cell phone with GPS data - via the Polish-Belarusian crossed the border, from where a van took them to Warsaw. 

Their bad experiences in a failed attempt to get across the border to Lithuania are remarkable, which is described in the SZ report as follows: "They finally made it three kilometers on Lithuanian territory when they were picked up by Frontex officers again," says Omar. They … were beaten, shocked with electric batons and taken back to the border. The officials would have shouted “Go Belarus” and loaded their rifles as a warning” (, 21.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: “Go Belarus,” shouted the officials”). 

A pushback is described here, in which refugees are sent back across the border or chased back. Such pushbacks are prohibited under international law, but have been carried out in large numbers, protected by emergency laws in both Lithuania and Poland. Poland has even legalized this practice through legislation.

The newspaper reports on a failed attempt by a young Kurd who flew back to Erbil after a five-week odyssey Süddeutsche Zeitung in another article. The Kurd told how the Belarusian military drove the refugees across the border: Once the Belarusian security guards chased them out of their tents in the border camp in the middle of the night, around 400 migrants were rounded up: "They cut a hole in the tooth and shouted: Come on, run to Germany!” Another time, the Belarusians took a large group by bus to the Lithuanian border. There they were supposed to wade through the border river Neman, the Memel: “The soldiers stood behind us with rifles at the ready. Anyone who didn't step into the water of their own accord was pushed.” The Lithuanian border guards were waiting on the other bank, visible from afar. The action apparently only served as a provocation. All were sent back.” … “I couldn't wash for two weeks, and there weren't any toilets there either,” he says. The Belarusians always kept a distance of three meters from the migrants. "If you looked them straight in the eye, they would hit you with wooden sticks" (, 3.12.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "If you looked them straight in the eye, they would hit you with wooden sticks").

More such stories will soon be told in Iraq, Syria and other countries of origin. Those affected can only partially see through the background of their experience - for example that they became tools in Lukashenko's blackmail attempt, and why the EU and Poland were ultimately unable to respond to this attempt. What will remain are the memories of the fact that they lost a lot of money and also of the bad experiences in the border area, accompanied by violence on both sides. As a result, Europe's luminosity has diminished and they will in future be more receptive to the anti-Western and anti-European propaganda that casts doubt on Western ideas about freedom and democracy. As a result, Europe's power of attraction has diminished. A paradoxical situation: this goal of the autocrats coincides with the basic approach of some politicians in Europe, who rely on deterrence and isolation in migration policy. 

Lukashenko's blackmail attempt was repelled, but Europe's reputation was damaged. Lukashenko and, above all, Putin, who is working in the background, “won” a little with it.

Retrospective – The EU has old homework to do 

What conclusions should be drawn from the new refugee crisis? When it became clear in late summer 2021 what Lukashenko had concocted – probably with Moscow’s approval – Brussels was completely surprised. “2015 must not repeat itself” was an incantation. It sounded a bit like the diffuse battle cry Theresa Mays: "Brexit means Brexit". But there was no suitable tool in the fellowship's toolbox. Despite being in 2015, it was poorly prepared for the crisis and so in the end the supposed strength of the Poles actually reveals the weakness of the EU. 

Presented on 12.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX Katrin Pribyl, the Europe correspondent Heilbronn voice in an op-ed comment that the lockdown tactic will not solve the problem. Lukashenko's perfidious plan should not work, but: "It is now the responsibility, but also the power of the international community to solve the problem together - based on solidarity and fundamental European values"... "But when it comes to migration the fronts are so hardened that the member states are unable to develop a common policy. As a result, the EU allows itself to be pushed around” Heilbronn voice, 12.11.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "Hardened Fronts"; opinion comment from Katrin Pribyl). In other words: the EU has old homework to do!

This brings me back to the beginning of this paper when I came out of the pamphlet "Europe failed" from Gesine Schwan quoted. To conclude, I would like to quote from the book again: 

“A 'keep it up' in refugee policy is not only shameful and inhumane, it also destroys the chances of Europe's future, of democracy and peace. What we are missing out on is the meaning of life and joy that grow from understanding and living well together in Europe and across borders.

The practical way to get out of the impasse of the current refugee policy is for a coalition of willing states to reach a voluntary agreement on the acceptance of refugees and to offer positive, including financial, incentives for this instead of all EU states under threat of 'acceptance “'to undertake by refugees. In the voluntary agreement, refugees are no longer a burden, but an opportunity.”

Gesine Schwan, Europe is failing: A humane refugee policy is possible (2021)

I am curious to see whether such a “coalition of willing states” can be found that is willing to tackle this task. The aim should be a comprehensive concept that goes far beyond the previous bottleneck of migration, "asylum". The lack of skilled workers in many European countries, which has been lamented again and again, makes broader legal immigration opportunities to Europe necessary. The work should already start in the countries of origin and run in two directions there - as development aid for the benefit of the country and those who stay there and as preparation for migration for those who want to leave. In addition, the newcomers should find a wide network of integration aids – beyond learning the language. It is usually the “brave” who emigrate. They not only strive for a better future for themselves and their children, but also enrich the host country. 

"Anyone who looks at world history will find that migration movements have repeatedly contributed significantly to the increase in intellectual potential, creativity (qua diversity) and thus also the prosperity of entire societies," writes Stefan Pehringer (since 2017 Head of the Austrian Embassy in Ottawa, Canada). Pehringer refers to the classic immigration countries, such as Australia, Canada and, until recently, the USA, where immigration – if regulated and well managed – is considered to be something fundamentally good (even downright necessary). (Quoted from "Courage for sober analysis instead of scaremongering" by Stefan Pehringer; published in “Social Democratic Foreign Policy”; Promedia Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Vienna, 2021).

In the future German government, there are also impetus for a change in European policy. This new federal government will stand much more clearly on the side of those who fight for democracy and the rule of law on the ground and show a clear edge for this, ”said these days Franziska Brantner, who is to become Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection (Heilbronn voice, 3.12.21/XNUMX/XNUMX: "End of the cuddle course"; Interviewed by Franziska Brantner (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), led by Hans-Jürgen Deglow).

  • Mark Galeotti in an article in Foreign Affairs of December 2, 2021, aptly notes that the EU has long since sacrificed its own fundamental values ​​in the course of the current wave of migration ("... to use external countries to do its dirty work on migration and in the process risks undermining the values ​​that Western societies are meant to espouse. … turning a blind eye to overcrowded detention centers, huge numbers of deaths at sea, authoritarian regimes, and endemic corruption.”)

    Galeotti's contribution can be found at the following hyperlink: