The migrant crisis in Europe is a decades-old issue. Conflicts such as the Arab Spring, the Libyan civil war, and Iraq’s destabilization from 2014-2017 have generated Europe’s problems with incoming people.

But now there is a new crisis on the horizon: the weaponizing of migrants, as seen on the Belarus-Poland border. 


Background

The Syrian civil war of 2011 was one of the most significant contributors to the migrant crisis. This is when the Arab Spring turned into a civil uprising. Distabalised people fled using routes through the Mediterranean and the Balkans, seeking countries to offer them sanctuary. These countries included Germany and the United Kingdom. The number of migrant refugees fleeing Syria reached 1m in March 2013. Most of them were classified as IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) and ended up in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Turkey.

Migration-refugee statistics

According to the UK Government website, 830,969 visas were granted in June 2021 for work, study, visiting, seeing family, or other reasons. Out of this number, 10,725 people were granted asylum, humanitarian protection, alternative forms of leave and resettlement — 37 per cent down from June 2020

In Europe, 2.7 million immigrants entered the EU from non-EU countries in 2019. According to the European Commission, 416,600 first-time asylum seekers applied for international protection in an EU-member state in 2020. Of those seeking asylum, Syrians and Afghans were amongst the two largest groups. The top countries of destination were Germany, France and Spain.

Afghanistan and Nigeria

Earlier this year, Afghanistan became a big headache for the European Union when Taliban forces began to seize control of the country.

Back in 2001, migrants started returning to their homeland of Afghanistan when the Taliban were driven out by US and British forces during Operation Enduring Freedom. The 2021 recapture of the land led to many of these same people fleeing once again. There are currently 2.5 million registered Afghan refugees globally and 3.5 million that have been displaced across the country since mid-July 2021.

A lesser-known incident provoking a surge of migration was the Boko Haram insurgency. There are an estimated 310,000 Nigerian refugees as a result. To this day, Boko Haram remain active.

Internal conflicts and destabilization have forced thousands of people to leave their home countries and seek refuge in Europe. By 2015, over 1 million migrants made their way to European shores.

Weaponizing migrants

This new terminology came into being following the Poland-Belarus fiasco. Belaruss’ President, Alexander Lukashenko has been suspected of stirring the water by granting visas to desperate Middle Eastern migrants. Once in Minsk, they have been seeking to cross into neighbouring countries such as Lithuania, Latvia and Poland (which incidentally house Belarussian dissidents — something that Lukashenko fundamentally disagrees with but cannot prevent).

The EU has accused Lukashenko of using migrants for his own gain. Indeed, migration is a weak point in policy-making for the EU and Belarus is arguably seeking to exploit that. Forbes has gone a step further in claiming that Lukashenko is weaponizing migrants by using Putin’s tactics. This is ‘lawfare’ — when the law is used as a weapon of war. Legally, Poland is forbidden from sending refugees back to a place where their lives will be in danger without breaching the European Court’s Human Rights Rulings and international refugee law. Many argue that this is payback for the EU’s sanctions on Belarus. 

Ongoing global conflicts will continue to be a key reason for people seeking asylum. However, policy recommendations suggest that migration must be made easier to avoid loss of life. Human safety must become the ultimate goal.