Escalating border crisis between Belarus and the EU catches migrants in the middle: The Picture Show: NPR

Migrants are at the border checkpoint at Bruzgi, Belarus, and Kuznica, Poland, on Wednesday. They are trapped in a border crisis between Belarus and its EU neighbors, which began escalating earlier this month.

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For months, the government of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has accelerated the number of visas it grants to migrants seeking refuge from war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and beyond.

However, visas are not issued for the purpose of allowing migrants to stay in Belarus. Officials in EU countries say Lukashenko is doing this as a ploy to send a large number of migrants to Poland and other EU members bordering Belarus, in retaliation for the bloc’s economic sanctions.

The EU has hit the Lukashenko regime with several rounds of sanctions since last year, accusing him of stealing his country’s 2020 elections as well as ordering violent repression of his opponents and other rights violations by citizens.

A man holding a child wipes his eye while the Kurdish family from Dohuk in Iraq waits for the border patrol, near Narewka, Poland, near the Polish-Belarusian border on 9 November. The family of three generations of 16 – with seven minors, including the youngest, who is 5 months old – spent about 20 days in the forest and was pushed back to Belarus eight times.

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A man holding a child wipes his eye while the Kurdish family from Dohuk in Iraq waits for the border patrol, near Narewka, Poland, near the Polish-Belarusian border on 9 November. The family of three generations of 16 – with seven minors, including the youngest, who is 5 months old – spent about 20 days in the forest and was pushed back to Belarus eight times.

Wojtek Radwanski / AFP via Getty Images

After securing what are typically seven-day visas and paying agencies from $ 3,000 to $ 6,000 for transit, which they are told will take them to the EU, migrants have boarded flights to the Belarusian capital Minsk, where they are being escorted to the Belarusian border with Poland. While there, Belarusian soldiers have helped migrants climb over the barbed wire fence marking the border.

Migrants stand in front of Belarusian soldiers as they gather on Sunday in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in Belarus’s Grodno region. Polish officials said dozens of migrants were detained that day after crossing into Poland from Belarus.

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Oksana Manchuk / BELTA / AFP via Getty Images

In response to thousands of migrants traveling this route, Poland has declared a state of emergency and has sent more than 20,000 security personnel to the border with Belarus.

Migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region of Belarus see a helicopter over their heads on 8 November.

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Leonid Shcheglov / BELTA / AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of migrants live in tent villages on the Belarusian border with Poland. They are trapped between Belarusian soldiers who encourage them to enter Poland and Polish soldiers who push them back to Belarus.

Poland’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that migrants stranded on the Belarusian side of the border threw stones at Polish soldiers, who responded with tear gas and water cannons. Migrants have reported physical assault from security forces on both sides of the border.

United Nations agencies have called authorities to respect the rights of migrants and refugees under international human rights and refugee laws.

Several migrants have died from sleeping in the freezing conditions of the forests and wetlands that make up the border region, and several humanitarian groups have tried to provide them with water, food and legal advice.

Now the EU is preparing its fifth round of sanctions against officials in the Lukashenko regime as well as the airlines that have provided travel for migrants.

A group of migrants were seen near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region of Belarus on Saturday. Western countries have accused the Russian-backed Belarusian regime of developing the crisis in retaliation for EU sanctions, accusations that Minsk has denied.

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In response to the threat, several airlines, including Turkish Airlines, have refused to offer flights to Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis on their flights to Belarus.

Migrants gather their belongings before leaving a camp in Grodno, Belarus, and head for the border crossing with Kuznica, Poland, on Monday.

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A photo taken on November 12 shows migrants in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region of Belarus. The presence of troops from both sides has created fear of a confrontation.

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A migrant boy reacts in a tent camp on the Belarusian-Polish border. Since the beginning of 2021, migrants have been on their way to the border between Belarus and Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Ramil Nasibulin / BELTA / TASS via Getty Image


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Migrants eat on Saturday in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region.

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Mourners lay their hands on the grave of Ahmad al-Hasan, 19, during his funeral in the Muslim cemetery of the local Tatar community on Monday in Bohoniki, Poland. Hasan from Homs, Syria, drowned in the Bug River while trying to cross from Belarus to Poland on October 19. There are reports that at least 11 migrants have died in recent months while trying to enter Poland from Belarus.

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Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Migrants warm up on Sunday by a fire in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region of Belarus. Some migrants say they were beaten and intimidated by dogs by Belarusian soldiers.

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Oksana Manchuk / BELTA / AFP via Getty Images

A Polish police officer checks a bus near the border with Belarus, which was closed due to a large group of migrants camping in the area on the Belarusian side, who had tried to push themselves illegally into Poland and into the EU in Kuznica, Poland, Friday, November 12, 2021.

Matthias Schrader / AP


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Matthias Schrader / AP

A Lithuanian soldier is patrolling a road near the village of Jaskonys in Lithuania near the border with Belarus on Saturday. EU members Poland and Lithuania say they are struggling to cope with an unusually high number of migrants arriving at their borders with Belarus in recent months.

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Mindaugas Kulbis / AP

Trucks are queuing at Highway 65 en route to the Polish-Belarusian border between Bialystok and Bobrowniki, Poland, on Sunday.

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Matthias Schrader / AP

A migrant receives medical treatment in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region of Belarus on 12 November.

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A migrant sits in front of a bonfire in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, on Sunday.

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Oksana Manchuk / BELTA / AFP via Getty Images

Migrants gather to receive humanitarian aid in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region of Belarus on 12 November. Hundreds of desperate migrants are trapped in freezing temperatures at the border.

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Ramil Nasibulin / BELTA / AFP via Getty Images

Migrants gather at the Belarusian-Polish border near the crossroads at Kuznica, Poland, on Monday.

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Oksana Manchuk / BELTA / AFP via Getty Images

International correspondent Rob Schmitz reported from Poland and Germany; photo editor Marco Storel edited the photos.

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