belarus’ visa free travel scheme raises concerns of unauthorised migration to poland and lithuania
Belarus, under the leadership of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, has introduced a visa-free travel arrangement with dozens of countries for a month, which has raised fears among neighbouring Poland and Lithuania of a sudden increase in unauthorised migration. The move comes after the mass arrival of migrants at the borders of the European Union in 2021, who had transited through Belarus. This article explores the implications of Belarus’ visa-free travel program and the concerns expressed by the governments of Poland and Lithuania regarding potential migrant influx and geopolitical destabilization.
Visa-Free Travel Program and the Music Festival
Belarus has signed a decree allowing citizens of 73 countries, including those from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, to travel to the country without a visa. The initiative is primarily aimed at promoting a music festival that Lukashenko personally opens every year to promote Belarus’ global integration. Under this program, individuals holding festival tickets will be able to enter Belarus without a visa from July 4-23.
Migration Concerns and Accusations
The governments of Poland and Lithuania perceive Belarus’ visa-free travel program as a potential threat, fearing it may lead to another influx of migrants similar to what occurred in 2021. Both countries accuse the Belarusian authorities of orchestrating the earlier migration crisis, in which thousands of migrants gathered at the EU borders after transiting through Belarus. Stanislaw Zaryn, acting deputy to Poland’s minister coordinator of special services, has expressed concerns that Russia and Belarus might attempt to repeat this situation using the month-long visa-free program.
Alleged Geopolitical Motives
Poland’s acting deputy alleges that the aim of Belarus’ migration facilitation is to destabilize Europe, including Poland, by creating an illegal migration route from Belarus to the West. He suggests that Lukashenko’s services may use an increased influx of people to intensify a hybrid operation on Poland’s eastern border. Poland had responded to the previous migration wave by constructing a fence on its border with Belarus.
Lithuania’s Concerns during NATO Summit
The Lithuanian government also shares concerns about Belarus’ intentions. They believe that Belarus might attempt to provoke Middle Eastern migrants at the border during a NATO summit scheduled to take place in Vilnius on July 11-12. Rustamas Liubajevas, commander of the State Border Guard Service of Lithuania, warns of the possibility of Belarus using migrants to create tensions and divert attention during the summit.
The introduction of a visa-free travel arrangement by Belarus has sparked concerns in Poland and Lithuania regarding the potential increase in unauthorised migration and geopolitical destabilization. The governments of both countries suspect that the Belarusian authorities may be behind the earlier migration crisis and fear a repeat scenario. As tensions rise, it remains to be seen how these concerns will be addressed and whether diplomatic efforts can mitigate the potential challenges posed by the visa-free travel program.