Migrants at the border between Belarus and Poland are being taken away by bus as of Wednesday, said a Polish government official, per ABC News, which suggests “the tense standoff could be easing.”
Thousands of migrants have been stranded in Belarus, seeking to enter Poland, as the growing tensions between the two countries have led the West to accuse Belarus of weaponizing the migrants and using them as “pawns,” reports The New York Times. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko is seeking “to punish Poland for sheltering some of his most outspoken opponents and to pressure the European Union into lifting sanctions on his country,” writes the Times, and also followed through with his threats to shut down an oil pipeline transporting Russian gas through Belarus to the European Union, escalating his “hybrid attack.”
The oil pipeline was shut down for “unscheduled maintenance,” reports Reuters, and later Wednesday morning, a Polish deputy interior minister said he had received information that migrants were boarding buses provided by Belarus and leaving the area, reports ABC News. The shutdown came despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warnings. If Belarus is seeking to change tactics and use oil supply as its chief pressure point rather than the border, it hasn’t yet fully defused the situation with Polish police, who NBC News reports used water cannons and tear gas against migrants who threw rocks and sticks.
Belarus has denied facilitating the crisis at its border, where United Nations humanitarian aid began to arrive in recent days. On Wednesday, the camp site began “slowly emptying,” said the Polish deputy interior minister. The Times reports “Belarus border guards suddenly began moving hundreds of migrants from their frozen encampment to the shelter of a nearby warehouse,” though it remains unclear whether it was “a prelude to deportation, not just a humane gesture.”
As the countries’ “battle to control the narrative” rages on, migrants lament being caught in between. Said Rawand Akram from Iraq to the Times, “We are just a stick that they are beating each other with … we are in the middle of their fight.”