SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

Who are the refugees coming to Germany via Belarus?

At the Eisenhuettenstadt reception centre for refugees on Germany's border with Poland, 19-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker Siban dreams of making a new life for himself after an exhausting journey from Belarus.

Refugees in Brandenburg, Germany
Refugees check their mobile phones at the arrival centre of the initial reception facility of the eastern German state of Brandenburg in Eisenhuettenstadt, on October 25th, 2021. Photo: JENS SCHLUETER / AFP

“I want to live here,” he says in broken German, learned through a few months of online courses.

Siban spent eight days trekking across Poland by foot to get to Germany after flying to Minsk from Turkey.

“I had no water, no food, it was cold. It was very tiring,” he tells AFP.

Siban is one of more than 6,100 illegal migrants who have entered Germany via Poland from Belarus since the beginning of this year, most of them from the Middle East, according to German authorities.

The EU accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of flying migrants from the Middle East and Africa to Minsk and then sending them into the bloc on foot in retaliation for sanctions imposed over a crackdown on the opposition.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has branded the alleged scheme “a hybrid threat, in which migrants are used as political weapons”.

The migrants are initially crossing from Belarus into Poland and the Baltic States, but many are then travelling on to Germany – seen as welcoming to migrants after Angela Merkel’s decision to leave the borders open to hundreds of thousands in 2015-16.

READ ALSO: How Germany is proposing to tighten controls on the Polish border

Tenfold increase

On arriving in Germany, the migrants are not being immediately sent back to Poland as EU rules would normally dictate, but taken to reception centres for registration.

The centre in Eisenhuettenstadt has seen 10 times more arrivals this year than in 2020, Olaf Jansen, head of the city’s migration authority, tells AFP.

It feels like 2015 all over again, “even if we don’t have the same numbers” at the national level, he says.

A dozen new tents have been set up to accommodate the new arrivals and create space for Covid-19 testing centres.

Around half of the 1,300 asylum seekers at the centre are from Iraq. The others are mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Yemen.

Refugees at the Polish border
A refugee sits as clothes dry at the grounds of the arrival centre of the initial reception facility of the eastern German state of Brandenburg in Eisenhuettenstadt. Photo: JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

Most of them want to remain in Germany. “Very few want to continue the journey to France or northern Europe,” Jansen says.

“I want to stay in Germany and continue my studies. It’s good here,” says Rohullah, 23, who arrived four days ago from Afghanistan.

To pass the time, some play football between the tents, while others call their relatives while sitting in the courtyard. All have stories of exhausting journeys on foot.

Zeidun, 22, from Fallujah in Iraq, walked non-stop for 10 days across Poland before taking a taxi across the border.

Border controls

Many have stories of brutality by the Polish police. “They are dangerous. They hit, and they have dogs,” says a 21-year-old from Baghdad who gave his name as Mamontzer.

To cope with the influx, Berlin this week tightened its border controls with Poland.

On the route to Eisenhuettenstadt, a dozen police officers have been assigned the task of blocking the bridge linking the German city of Frankfurt (Oder) and the Polish town of Slubice.

Goods vehicles and taxis are being routinely stopped and searched.

Refugees in Brandenburg
Refugees are seen on the grounds of the arrival centre of the initial reception facility of the eastern German state of Brandenburg in Eisenhuettenstadt. Photo: JENS SCHLUETER / AFP

The influx has also provided fuel for Germany’s anti-migration movement, especially since the far-right AfD achieved some of its best results in last month’s general election in the eastern regions of the country bordering Poland and the Czech Republic.

Police last weekend broke up around a rally of around 50 activists from the radical far-right group “The Third Way” (Der III. Weg), which had called for its members to gather to take action against migrants seeking to cross the border from Poland.

READ ALSO: Germany to step up checks as far-right activists target Polish border

Other such initiatives were also reported in neighbouring Saxony.

During the operation, police seized pepper spray, a bayonet, a machete and batons.

By Florian Cazeres

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

__

Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

SHOW COMMENTS