Thousands of people are stranded at the border between Poland and Belarus in terrible conditions, trapped at the center of an intensifying geopolitical dispute.
The migrants — most of whom are from the Middle East and Asia, and who are hoping to travel on from Poland deeper into Europe — have been gathering on the Belarusian side of the Kuznica border crossing. Authorities closed the crossing on Tuesday, with aerial footage showing large crowds congregating in the area.
Here are key things to know about the situation:
- Migrants are facing dire conditions: Charities say people stuck in the border area are battling freezing weather and lack food and medical attention, with reports of beatings and grueling conditions continuing to emerge. Polish authorities said seven migrants have been found dead on Poland's side of the border, with reports of more deaths in Belarus.
- Poland's government is ramping up its nationalist rhetoric: Polish President Andrzej Duda visited the border late on Thursday in a show of solidarity with the military, police and border guards. Earlier in the day, Duda addressed thousands of Poles who marched through Warsaw to celebrate Independence Day. In a speech with nationalistic references in support of the government's strict policy of keeping the border with Belarus closed to migrants, he said, "We have always been, we are and we will be part of a Europe based on Christian values, which are also the foundations of our tradition and culture."
- A larger political crisis is brewing: Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has previously been accused of manufacturing a migrant crisis on the border by the prime ministers of neighboring Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, leading Poland to adopt a bill in October for the construction of a wall along its border with Belarus. Lukashenko's government has repeatedly denied such claims, instead blaming the West for the crossings and treatment of migrants. Russia, Belarus' largest (and most important) political and economic partner, has defended Minsk's handling of the issue and has denied any involvement in the crisis.
- Belarus faces new sanctions: The United States and the European Union have announced new sanctions against Belarus this week. On Wednesday, the White House's National Security Council said the US is preparing "follow-up sanctions" designed to hold Belarusian leaders accountable for "ongoing attacks on democracy, human rights and international norms." The spokesperson did not specify when the new sanctions would come into place.
Read more about how the crisis is unfolding here.