Some 2,600 migrants who arrived via Belarus are being housed in the state of Brandenburg | Photo: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture-alliance
Some 2,600 migrants who arrived via Belarus are being housed in the state of Brandenburg | Photo: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture-alliance

Germany says the number of migrants arriving from Poland and Belarus has soared in recent months. The EU accuses Belarus of fueling mass migration, and Poland has said it will spend millions to build a wall.

Authorities in Germany Wednesday said over 4,300 migrants had arrived via Belarus this year, with a steep rise in recent months.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders have accused Belarus of using migrations as a form of "hybrid war" to exert pressure on the EU. They claim Minsk is trying to destabilize the 27-nation bloc as revenge for sanctions.

How has the situation at the border developed this year?

In the seven months from January to July, only 26 people were recorded traveling through Belarus and Poland into Germany.

In May, President Alexander Lukashenko said he would no longer stop migrants using his country as an illegal transit route. That was in response to EU sanctions after a passenger jet from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk and a dissident onboard was detained. The arrest followed Minsk's harsh crackdown on protesters who complained that last year's presidential election was rigged.

By August, 574 people had entered Germany via the Belarus route; in September the figure rose to 1,914; by October 11, that number had already been surpassed — with 1,943 migrants using the route.

Migrants are allegedly being encouraged to make legal journeys to Belarus by plane, then take the illegal route into the EU by land. German police say most come from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Iran.

How are German authorities coping? 

Some 2,600 migrants are being hosted in the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin. Olaf Jansen, head of the refugee authority in the eastern city of Eisenhüttenstadt, said the situation was "not dramatic, but it is tough." Normal capacity would be temporarily increased to 4,600 through the use of heated tents, he said.

While facilities were not yet overcrowded, Jansen said quarantine measures to curb the spread of coronavirus were posing a major challenge. He added that with no apparent effort to stop the flow of migrants, numbers were likely to increase.

Poland set to spend hundreds of millions on new wall

For its part, EU member state Poland says it will spend €353 million ($407 million) on a new high-tech wall along its border with neighboring Belarus to stem the influx of migrant arrivals. Politicians debated a draft law on construction Wednesday and are expected to vote on the measure Thursday.

Poland currently has thousands of border patrol agents stationed at the frontier, which is fortified with razor wire and is under a state of emergency — excluding journalists and aid workers from the area. Poland, one of 12 EU states to request border wall funding from Brussels, says the new wall will be outfitted with motion detectors and that no one will be allowed within 200 meters (656 feet) of it.   

In 2015-2016, more than a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa made perilous journeys across the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.

Most were eager to reach richer northern European countries, including Germany. Individual states erected barriers to make that route more difficult and the EU made deals with Turkey and Libya to help stem migration. 

js,rc/wmr (AFP, dpa, AP)

First published: October 13, 2021

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