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The tense stand-off on Europe’s borders

Bulent Kilic/AFP

Europe is facing a “humanitarian crisis” on its doorstep, says Ada Petriczko in The Boston Globe. Since June about 8,000 migrants from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and west Africa have been trying to get from Belarus into the EU countries of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. But they’re being violently pushed back by border patrols. Men, women and children have been huddling for months in the cold, rainy Belarusian forests, with no shelter, food or medication. At least five have died from hypothermia and exhaustion, and winter is coming. What’s more, these migrants are trapped: when they try to retreat from the border, the Belarusian authorities brutally herd them back. “And so the vicious cycle continues.”

The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is demanding huge sums from desperate migrants to fly them in from war zones and dump them in dark European forests – it’s “a new low”, says Andreas Kluth in Bloomberg. But it’s all part of a callous plan by the “dictator of Minsk and his overlord in Moscow” to use the world’s most vulnerable human beings as weapons. Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin are gleefully sowing division among the EU’s eastern members and manoeuvring them into building “what is in effect a new Iron Curtain”. It’s working. Poland will soon have 10,000 troops on its border. And a dozen EU states, including Poland, Latvia, Hungary and Austria, are clamouring for fences.

They want Brussels to foot the bill, too, says The Economist – but the EU has a firm stance on paying for border walls. “It won’t.” Hungary unsuccessfully tried that on during the migration crisis of 2015, when 1.4 million people arrived. And the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, said no to the latest demand last week. The big difference this time is that, as well as migrants in Belarus, many European states “expect a lot of Afghans to arrive soon”, and they’re feeling less welcoming to migrants. Hundreds of miles of fencing have gone up along the EU’s frontier since 2015. While no one is comfortable with the scenes on the Belarus border, Brussels has learnt the painful lesson that “taking in lots of asylum seekers comes with a political cost”. Building a wall doesn’t.