Garvan Walshe: How Lukashenko uses our anti-migration paranoia to wreak havoc in Poland.


Garvan Walshe is a former Conservative Party National and International Security Policy Advisor

Why is Alexandr Lukashenko encouraging desperate Iraqis and other Middle Easterners to make their way across the Polish border? Why did King Mohammed of Morocco attempt the same in the North African Spanish enclave of Ceuta? Why is the Home Office concerned that France will allow more people to cross the Channel to England in small inflatable boats?

The Polish Prime Minister wore a military green windbreaker to visit his eastern border. Spanish opposition leader Pablo Casado rushed to Morocco the last time some young people were encouraged to swim around the Hispano-Moroccan border fence. Priti Patel is known to prefer a photo shoot or two with border force officers.

Disorderly migration alarms voters, and it is an unwise government that gives the impression of having lost control, while right-wing opposition politicians face little risk, as well as being ridiculed for not finding islands to deposit applicants on. asylum, in appearing tough.

In recent decades, Western governments have resorted to leaving people in the freezing Bosnian tents, confining them to tropical islands for years at great expense preventing them from earning a living, and hosting them in disused barracks Other “hotel” infested with parasites subjecting them to beatings and robberies – outsource their detention to militias in league with the human traffickers we should stop.

What the crisis on the Belarusian borders shows is that this barbarism has not brought us strength, but weakness. Our inability to deal with migration in an orderly fashion hands our enemies an inhuman and destabilizing weapon.

Because we have promised (and delivered not just a good portion of our conscience but huge amounts of money) to eliminate irregular immigration, voters expect the wrong kind of migration to be deterred with relative ease.

Shady officials fear that humanity’s basic standards – allowing people to make a living by their own efforts, saving them from drowning at sea, vaccinating them against Covid – would become “pull factors” for people fleeing war. or just, in effect, getting on my bike and looking for work.

Yet Lukashenko’s latest plan shows that this is a strategic as well as a moral failure. We have become so determined to prevent anyone from entering through the wrong channels (we closed the right ones a long time ago when we made airlines and shipping companies responsible for the cost of repatriating people who did not have the right visas) that a few hundred unarmed people and frozen can cause an international accident where shots may have been fired at the borders of NATO.

The question may seem to be of international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention requires that asylum seekers be examined individually and impartially.

But it is much more fundamental. The Convention confined itself to codifying the traditional principles of the human sanctuary, after seeing what happened when these were abandoned during World War II. It was introduced at a time when there were millions of people on the move in Europe. It had to be applied to a far greater number of applicants than we are facing now.

After a lull in the Cold War caused by Communist attempts to stop their people from leaving, migration outside the official visa channels began to increase. Cheap air travel has allowed people to come from further afield. Instead of building our capacity to deal with it, meeting our basic moral and legal obligations to our fellow men (and for that matter benefiting from ambitious immigrants eager to seize the opportunities that open societies offer them), anti-immigration politicians have reduced our ability to cope with migratory flows.

Instead of solving what they see as a problem, they make it worse. It is the restrictions on ordinary air and ferry travel that create the people smuggling industry: otherwise migrants could simply buy much cheaper air and air tickets.

Lukashenko nationalized the smuggling of people because he identified this weakness. A few thousand people flown can now paralyze European politics because we have chosen not to develop our capacity to evaluate asylum applications. But in reality it is not too difficult to fill this gap.

Countries need to build a wider network of reception gaps, hire the necessary judges and social workers, not just border guards, and establish programs to integrate people to let in and remove those who shouldn’t be.

Plus, it’s not too hard to make it harder for Lukashenko to at least repeat the same trick. The flights that take people to Minsk are mostly Western chartered planes. Companies participating in this hybrid attack by supplying the planes should be sanctioned, with fines or bans from European airspace. He will find the plan much more difficult to carry out if he is to take people by bus across the Caucasus.

Defending against hybrid threats requires attention to the resilience of our society. Just as we need to pay attention to energy policy, distinguish between foreign investment and money laundering, we need immigration systems that can handle reasonable volumes of asylum applications in an orderly manner. Not doing so exposes us to manipulation by authoritarian leaders.


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