Speed Reads

Bad Bets

Belarus' plan to engineer an EU migrant crisis backfires as migrants decide Belarus is better than nothing

If Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko wanted to take revenge on the European Union by flooding it with asylum-seeking migrants he routed to the Polish border, as appears to be the case, his plan backfired. "Lukashenko's regime is now struggling over what do with thousands of stranded people he lured from the Middle East and beyond," The Washington Post reports.

Belarus on Wednesday began bussing migrants amassed in the cold at the Polish border to warehouses promising food, warmth, and shelter. But "having helped funnel desperate migrants to Europe's doorstep," The New York Times reports, "Lukashenko suddenly has to deal with people like Bale Nisu, a 21-year-old Kurd from Iraq who has taken a liking to Belarus, and would like to settle here." 

Belarus isn't Nisu's first choice — like the other migrants, he wants to get to Germany or elsewhere in the EU. "He lamented that he had spent more than $4,000 and days freezing in the forest only to end up in a poor, highly repressive former Soviet republic with little to offer in the way of jobs and other opportunities," the Times reports. But Nisu said "Belarus looked far more enticing than returning to Iraq, or more encounters with Polish soldiers and border guards. He said he wanted to apply for asylum in Belarus," which he called "a very, very good country."

"Dictators don't usually have to worry about having their country praised," the Times notes, but Lukashenko "could face a serious headache if migrants start demanding political asylum in Belarus. It is a predominantly Orthodox Christian nation with scant experience of taking in foreign immigrants and, like Poland and other East European countries, has been generally hostile to non-Christian settlers from outside Europe."

Lukashenko could deport the migrants back to Iraq, Syria, and their other countries of origin — and many of the migrants fear he will do just that, the Post reports. But "Belarus has spent weeks denouncing Poland for violating international law by refusing to consider asylum requests and pushing back migrants ... who make it across the border," the Times reports.

Lukashenko was probably hoping to win concession from the EU, inspired by Europe's decision to pay Turkey generously to stem a flow of Syrian asylum-seekers during a 2015 destabilizing flood of migrants," independent Belarus analyst Dmitry Bolkunets tells the Post. "But Lukashenko miscalculated and now there's no way out."