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Lemkin Institute Statement on the Crisis at the Belarusian Border with Poland

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has released a new statement on the refugee crisis at the border between Belarus and Poland.

For weeks Belarus has been offering desperate refugees transit through the country to the borders with neighboring states, leading to charges that Belarus is conducting "hybrid warfare" and "weaponizing migrants."

The Lemkin Institute is alarmed by the situation as well as the language being used to describe the bodies and the lives of ordinary people escaping conflict, persecution, and economic devastation.

Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA pool photo via AP

The full text of the statement:

As the refugee crisis on the Belarusian border with Poland heats up, the Lemkin Institute

condemns the EU response to the ongoing suffering faced by refugees seeking safe haven in

Europe. We remind state leaders that refugees can only be “weaponized” – a term being used by

government officials and Western media outlets alike – if the receiving countries view the

refugees as dangerous, unwanted, and subhuman.

Refugees are ordinary human beings with dignity and rights. The language we use to talk about

them matters. “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought,” George Orwell

reminded us long ago.

Over ten refugees have reportedly died on the Belarusian side of the border in the past few

weeks. In the cold night of November 10, a 15-year-old Kurdish boy died from hypothermia.

These deaths can be added to the terrible toll taken by Europe’s closed border policies.

According to the International Office of Migration, at least 22,748 people have died in the

Mediterranean region alone since 2014.

Besides legal obligations, European nations have a particular responsibility to accept refugees

and treat them with respect, given Europe’s experience with the horrors of racism and religious

bigotry in the first half of the twentieth century as well as its advocacy for human rights and the

rights of stateless persons since the end of World War II.

One should not have to remind Europe of the darkness of the 1930s, when unwanted Others

within European borders were scuttled from one state to another, finding safety nowhere.

Germany’s “Polish Action” in 1938, when Germany forced an estimated 17,000 stateless Jews of

Polish origin over the Polish border, where they ended up stuck in a no-man’s-land between the

two countries over the cold winter months, is only one example of the horrors that result from

rampant xenophobia and a disregard for the humanity of refugees and stateless persons.

The crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border is emblematic of the failure of Western foreign policy

and the brutality of post-Cold War Western imperialism, especially when faced with blowback

from its own efforts. Most of the people on the Polish border appear to be from Afghanistan,

Iraq, and Libya, three countries destabilized by the US-led ‘war on terror,’ which European

nations supported in various ways, including, in Poland’s case, by allowing the CIA to operate a

‘black site’ on its territory. The United States, for its part, is behaving in a similar fashion on its border with Mexico, where it is still preventing refugees from entering and subjecting them to

brutal treatment and unsafe conditions in the borderlands.

Powerful nations in Europe and North America are largely responsible for the flow of refugees

and therefore must open their borders to them.

The refugees on the Polish-Belarusian border should be granted entry to European states and

afforded the rights that are outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1951

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol, and the particular agreements

signed in the development of a Common European Asylum System. If Europe were to live up to

its own values, neither Belarus nor any other country could dream of “weaponizing” human

beings in order to punish EU countries.

A PDF of the statement can be found here:

Lemkin Institute Statement on the Crisis at the Belarusian Border with Poland
Download PDF • 111KB


(c) 2021 Lemkin Institute


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