NARRATIVE: The EU caused the migration crisis after terminating the readmission agreement with Belarus and imposing sanctions against this country.
BACKGROUND: “EU-Belarus relations have grown increasingly contentious over the years due to the string of abuses committed by Alexander Lukashenko, an authoritarian leader who’s been in power since 1994, described by many as “Europe’s last dictator”. In August, 2020, Lukashenko secured a new term as president after the presidential election, which the opposition and Western chancelleries condemned as rigged. A wave of protests ensued, which the Minsk regime chose to repel with force. The EU moved to introduce sanctions. Alexander Lukashenko responded by renewing ties with Moscow, which has virtually been Belarus’s only significant partner. In recent years, Lukashenko has faced a number of accusations from EU member states, who claim he is being used by Russia in order to generate a new migration crisis targeting the West. The leaders in Minsk and Moscow met several times in order to discuss the creation of a new statal union, designed to the Kremlin’s liking, but also about their shared approach to foreign policy.
The Minsk regime has allegedly set up / tolerated a well-through-out system meant to bring migrants from the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Yemen) and Afghanistan and transport them to the border. According to videos posed on social media, Belarusian security forces assisted some of the migrants (in some cases using force) to cross the border into Lithuania and Poland. Minsk authorities are compelled to deny safe crossing to any migrant who fails to provide evidence of having crossed the border into Belarus, as well as the reason for their travel to other countries, yet both the Russian state media, as well as the local media in Belarus, have described Belarus’s actions as observing international law to the letter. Veridica has recently debunked a false narrative disseminated by the head of the Russian MFA, Sergey Lavrov, who said that to ask president Alexander Lukashenko and the Belarusian law enforcement agencies to stop this process “would be contrary to international law, especially humanitarian law”. Additionally, Veridica published an editorial about the refugee crisis on the Belarusian border, where Russia is using new tactics from its hybrid arsenal in order to cynically exploit one of its allies.
PURPOSE: The purpose of this narrative is to persuade public opinion in Belarus, Russia and other states with an important Russian-speaking population that Brussels generated the migration crisis and bears the sole responsibility for it. It also seeks to smear the image of the EU, whose values and prosperity go against totalitarian regimes and economic models in countries such as Belarus and Russia.
WHY THE NARRATIVE IS FALSE: In fact, the EU never committed to building camps for immigrants on Belarusian territory, but merely to funding projects carried out by Minsk authorities. Alexander Lukashenko referred to certain non-refundable programs addressing beneficiaries in Belarus and aimed at consolidating infrastructure and security on the EU-Belarus border. In 2007, the EU disbursed 7 million Euro to Belarus for the building of camps for illegal immigrants in the context of simplifying procedures for visa applications. Furthermore, according to Deutsche Welle, as part of the EU Joint Operational Programme, an additional 39 million Euro was earmarked to modernize border infrastructure. Lukashenko claims the EU stopped building refugee camps, but Brussels never undertook such efforts in Belarus in the first place.
Moreover, Minsk apparently received European funds for this purpose but chose to spend it otherwise. This was confirmed in June this year by the Belarusian Foreign Minister, Vladimir Makey, who said that European funds will be invested elsewhere, “for the good of the people”. Therefore, Lukashenko’s statement, claiming the EU “started to build” camps but then “stopped”, disinforms public opinion. In fact, Belarus is actually the one who didn’t honor its commitments to modernize border infrastructure.
Equally false is the narrative according to which the EU abandoned Belarus and terminated the readmission agreement. The very Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belarus stated in a press release issued on June 28, 2021 and published by Belta news agency in Minsk, that Belarus requested the termination of its agreement with the EU, a procedure that was finalized in October.
Lukashenko’s statements can also be interpreted as a response to the recent declaration of the UN Security Council, published in mid-November, whereby member states condemned the wave of illegal migration fueled by the authoritarian regime in Minsk. Russia denied any involvement in the migration crisis and urged Western powers to restore a means of communication with Belarus. Also in November, Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, accused Russian president, Vladimir Putin, of bankrolling the wave of illegal immigrants trying to cross the Polish border, with the help of the authoritarian regime in neighboring Belarus. Immigrants from the Middle East are brought by plane to Belarus and used as human shields in order to destabilize Poland and the entire European Union, the head of government in Warsaw said.