Imagine being trapped at night in an icy forest between Poland and Belarus. There is no shelter, no food, no heat. If you try to head west, the Polish army pushes you back. If you try to get back where you came from, Belarusian border guards are standing in your way. And it happens again and again. You are stuck. There is no way out.
For countless refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other crisis areas, this Kafkaesque nightmare is playing out right now, with sometimes fatal consequences. Polish authorities report more than 15,000 attempts to cross the border into the EU since August, reaching more than 500 per day in recent weeks. The UN and human rights groups say Poland is breaking the law by denying asylum to these migrants. The European Commission is angry that the area has been closed to its officials and the media. But Warsaw is fearless. Parliament voted last week to build a permanent € 350million (£ 295million) Belarusian border wall in Trump style.
The Polish stalemate appears to be in part the result of a deliberate effort by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko to lure potential migrants into the country with free visas and cheap flights and then force them to travel to the country. Where is. This “hybrid war” of pressure on the EU is its alleged revenge for the sanctions imposed by Brussels last year.
Uncontrolled migration, politically manipulated or not, poses a growing challenge to states on the periphery of Europe, particularly the United Kingdom. But politicians’ attempts to deal with it often seem chaotic, indifferent and illegal. Sympathy for refugees is sorely lacking everywhere, it seems.
Greece, Italy and Turkey have been accused on several occasions in recent months of violent “refoulements” – forcibly pushing back irregular arrivals without distinguishing between asylum seekers fleeing political persecution, refugees from wars, famine or climate change and economic migrants. All three deny the charges.
The situation on the Iran-Turkey border is said to be particularly critical. The International Organization for Migration estimates that as many as 30,000 refugees have fled Afghanistan every week in recent months. Many who attempt to enter Turkey on their way to Europe say they have been beaten or mistreated by border guards who deny them asylum.
France, Greece, Italy and Spain all struggle to cope with the influx of migrants from northern Libya, Eritrea, the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa. This in turn is fueling another related crisis: the record number of UK entry attempts that place their lives in the hands of heartless smugglers and unsuitable small craft in the English Channel.
The brutal approach taken by Home Secretary Priti Patel in her new border bill reflects different levels of hostility, indifference, incompetence and illegality similar to those manifested towards migrants by some EU counterparts. Prominent immigration lawyers say Patel’s plans violate international and national law in at least 10 ways.
It is not new to suggest that Europe’s growing confusion over migration policy distorts and damages its policy, social cohesion and values, but it is fair to say that the trauma is getting worse. Despite a poor national electoral performance last month, the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland, which grew fatter following the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015, still wields significant influence in eastern Germany.
The 2022 presidential election campaign in France has so far been dominated by issues of migration, Islam and identity. In Denmark, under pressure from the far right, the Social Democrat-led government of a notoriously tolerant and welcoming country is pursuing some of the toughest anti-immigrant policies ever seen in the EU.
Amid the growing human misery around Europe’s borders, the lack of cooperation between states struggling to overcome a common problem emerges. The EU has tried and failed to forge a common approach. He must try again, urgently, and Britain must help him. A little more compassion would be nice too.