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The Suffering of Kurdish Migrants Intensifies Amid a Standoff on the Poland-Belarus Border

A rain cloud arrived in the Belarus-Poland border sky on the night of November 8, hours after hundreds of migrants gathered in a forest, steps away from the frontier. Among them is a young Kurdish man who fled creeping despair and hopelessness in his hometown in the Kurdistan Region. Generations of Kurds have lived similar migration scenarios, but this time the youth are not fleeing war and violence.

Overnight temperatures at the border have fallen below freezing and some of the people stranded there have warned they are running out of food and water.

Thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, Iraq in particular, have tried to cross into European Union nations from Belarus since at least early summer. The EU has accused Belarus of orchestrating the influx of migrants to punish it for imposing sanctions against the country. Since October 2020, the EU has imposed progressively restrictive measures against Minsk that were adopted in response to concerns over the 2020 presidential elections, and the intimidation and violent repression of peaceful protesters, opposition members, and journalists. 

Many of the migrants are young men but there are also women and children, mostly from the Middle East and Asia. They have become victims of Poland and Belarus without a doubt.

Belarus’ neighbors have fortified their borders against the migrants, leaving thousands desperate in a country they had thought would be an easy gateway to western Europe. 

Belarusian authorities have escorted an estimated 1,000 people, most of whom are from the Middle East, to the Polish border in an escalation of a deadly crisis that has already left people desperate to reach the EU trapped between borders and at least eight deaths due to exposure.

Stuck in a dire situation, the migrants are in a zone largely inaccessible to humanitarian aid and media. They are hungry and thirsty and are asking for help. 

Poland boosted its security upon the arrival of the migrants on Monday, setting out a line of border guards, Hummers, and heavy weapons. Polish police on Wednesday detained over 50 migrants who made it across the border, according to AFP. They are still looking for others.

Poland and Belarus have accused each other of violence towards migrants camped near the fence.

However, the defense ministry in Warsaw tweeted a video alleging that a Belarusian soldier fired a shot to intimidate the migrants camped near the fence.

Warsaw declared a state of emergency on the border and the parliament passed a law that grants border guards the power to push migrants back across the border. It’s part of an effort by Belarus’ neighbors to fortify their borders and stop the migration but could breach Warsaw’s commitments under international law. 

An estimated 193,443 people have left the Kurdistan Region and Iraq by irregular means since 2018, according to data from the Summit Foundation for Refugee and Displaced Affairs (Lutka). 

For some migrants from northern Duhok, the ongoing conflict between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has driven them off their farmlands and onto the migration trail. Turkey has carried out two intense campaigns against the PKK in the province since April. Several civilians have been killed and scores of villages emptied.

These under-developed areas are now driving the migration. One of the main reasons in rural areas is unemployment. There are no jobs there, and the reason is that they lack infrastructure especially economic infrastructure.

The KRG will take the necessary measures in this matter, without giving a clear plan.

For months, the EU, and now Nato and the US, have accused Belarus’s authoritarian leader of provoking a renewed migrant crisis in Europe.

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the EU should now extend its sanctions on the Belarusian regime. She said: “Belarus must stop putting people’s lives at risk. The instrumentalization of migrants for political purposes by Belarus is unacceptable.”

Poland has reported nearly 30,000 illegal border crossings this year, with more than 17,000 coming in October. Many are attempting to flee to Germany, which said it had received more than 6,100 refugees via Poland from Belarus since the beginning of the year.

Poland and other European Union member states accuse Belarus of using migrants as pawns to create a new wave of mass migration into the bloc. At least 8 have died, according to the Associated Press.