Amid rising tensions from a refugee standoff at the Polish-Belarusian border, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused European countries of having “double standards” on the treatment of refugees.
“Yesterday, in some political science discussions, they asked: Why, when refugees came from Turkey to the European Union, the EU allocated funding so they stay on the territory of the Republic of Turkey?” Lavrov asked at a news conference.
“Why is it also impossible to help Belarusians who have certain needs so that refugees, whom Poland and Lithuania do not want to let on their territory, live in normal conditions?”
Lavrov said Western countries, particularly NATO members, were directly responsible for the conditions that lead these migrants to flee to Europe.
“Respecting international humanitarian law, one must understand that this also implies respect for people who have become refugees through the fault of the West, first of all, which unleashed aggressive wars in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Lavrov’s narrative is misleading.
First, the situation now between Poland and Belarus was deliberately caused by Belarus’ belligerent dictator, Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarus does not border any Middle Eastern country, nor have the migrants who have arrived in Belarus come overland. Turkey, on the other hand, borders Syria and Iraq and is directly affected by neighboring crises.
Refugees can reach the Turkey by land rather than flying to Ankara or Istanbul. Not so for Belarus. In recent months, Belarusian “tourist” agencies have been advertising flights to Minsk from places like Baghdad, and granting tourist visas. An investigation by Reuters found that smugglers in Iraq have been charging would-be migrants between $10,000 and $12,000 to get visas and air tickets to Minsk.
Once in Minsk, migrants have been driven to the border. This flow has increased considerably, and videos show migrants who are effectively homeless waiting in Minsk. New video has emerged apparently showing Belarusian border guards forcibly pushing migrants across a thin fence on the border with Poland.
Russia’s ally in Syria, the Bashar al-Assad regime, has also helped increase the flow of migrants, using the state airline Cham Wings to fly people from Damascus to Minsk.
Earlier this year, Lukashenko all but publicly admitted he would open the border between Belarus and his EU neighbors. But Belarus is not on the normal refugee route to Germany, where most of the migrants wish to seek asylum.
Lavrov’s claim that the West bears sole responsibility for the dire conditions in these Middle Eastern and North African countries is also misleading.
Some major NATO members – Germany and France – opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. What’s more, since then many countries, including Russia and its ally Iran, have played key roles in regional conflicts.
The most egregious problem has been Syria, a major source of refugees since 2015. The war in Syria began in 2011 with protests against the Assad regime, which responded with a military crackdown. Since the uprising turned into a full-fledged civil war, the Assad regime has been backed by its Iranian and Russian allies.
Since 2015, the Russian air force has been actively involved in bombing campaigns that left thousands homeless and with little choice but to flee. Russia also backed the military of the Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, which prolonged that country’s civil war. Russia’s ally Iran has also supported sectarian militias in Iraq for years.