Written by Staff Writer by Simon Byrne, CNN
Poland is worried that Belarus is secretly working with Afghanistan to use hundreds of its citizens as pawns in a border dispute, trying to gain veto power in a dispute with its central European neighbor.
The row began in October when Belarus accused Poland of breaching international agreements by allowing migrants from Belarus to cross the border irregularly. The move comes as the country is reportedly trying to guard against a migrant influx from the UK ahead of a March 2019 Brexit vote in parliament.
On Monday, the Polish foreign ministry responded to allegations made by Belarus that Poland is letting hundreds of migrants enter the country in violation of bilateral agreements, saying: “Our country’s position is that the law on migration, and the agreement on migration, are strictly applicable in the Netherlands-Poland border region.”
Poland is based around one of the most militarized European border points. The span between Lithuania and Belarus houses the main border between the Baltics and the former Soviet republics.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels on Friday, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said that “the introduction of the use of this expulsion policy is shocking. The fact that this could be done without necessarily getting agreement on the expulsion policy is very alarming.
“The Belarusian practice of bringing in special, specially trained border guards, provokes fear. This policy is showing fear and is also illegal,” he added.
From the start of 2019, Belarus is to phase out its participation in the European Union’s passport-free Schengen area, while retaining its passport-free Schengen-plus arrangement with the EU.
Alfred Brendon, a senior associate at the New York-based Transatlantic Institute, said that sending up to 1,000 migrants back home per week was quite extreme and that he feared the plan could be used to “misuse migration” to “settle a few personal scores with Poland”.
“Belarus knows that its immigration system is utterly broken,” he added. “It has refused to do anything about it — simply counting refugees as ‘foreigners’ is not a way to manage a system of mass migration. You start sending people back to places they want to go to.”
The deportation program is likely to leave the country more vulnerable to potential internal migration than the situation in Poland, said Brendon.
“It means that the biggest risk to Poland is that the immigration police are being sent home illegally — and even if they are let go, more people are going to pay into the system of a system they don’t understand,” said Brendon.
‘The law on migration’
Poland and Belarus have a long history of geopolitical rivalry, with both often seen as modern-day successors to the Iron Curtain states of Central Europe.
According to Brendon, this latest dispute appears “far from a fight for territory or freedom,” as it concerns “bad relations” over a border dispute.
He added: “One can imagine, should this issue arise over again, how the matter would be handled if it had been China, Taiwan or the North Koreans.”
“In the end, Russia is the biggest beneficiary in this, having any legitimate quarrel with Belarus in its backyard, but also with Poland for much of the last century.”