Border tensions boil over between Europe’s neighbours


Tensions are boiling on the border between Poland and Belarus, where many citizens claim to be unable to access the rights they are entitled to under the European Union, the BBC’s Peter Carruthers reports.

They aren’t allowed to buy alcohol and tobacco products in Belarus; they can’t work anywhere on the border; and they can’t use their passports to visit family abroad.

In return, Poland has to continue to pay a hefty price to keep the border open – so hefty that one crowd of Moldovan Moldovans – who successfully sued their boss for unpaid wages – took pity on the couple.

They bought their passports, and now no longer pay any taxes on them. “They gave us a €2,500 (£2,270) plus a Mercedes Benz as compensation,” says Amanda, 24.

But Belarusians are equally angry.

Virtually all they are able to take abroad is what they can travel back to after a month’s stay.

Of those who get to travel, fewer than 10% manage to do so every year.

“The entire taxation system and people’s rights is removed and is filled up with holes,” says Mykola Belonov, the head of Belotserkul Minsk No 2, a local company that assists Belarusian small and medium-sized businesses.

“In the past, the government gave them a machine so they could do their taxes by themselves.”

Ukrainian police, including the military, were given free use of a camp on the Polish border in the 1990s.

Now, the border is manned by a single checkpoint.

Poland has accused the government in Minsk of not doing enough to safeguard its side of the border.

“When the situation on the border was quite calm, it was possible to go and talk to officials,” says Poland’s ambassador to Belarus, Dariusz Wyszkowski.

“These days we just can’t do it.”

What is the EU doing about it?

Last week, the EU condemned Belarus’s border control system as “completely uncompetitive”, and said it was preparing new border procedures to address the issue.

It added that it was “very concerned” by the actions of the Belarusian authorities towards Polish citizens.

But the EU “remains keenly committed to working with Belarus to address these problems”.

How has the border affected me?

This is a sorry state of affairs. Ukrainians are limited to taking 1kg and 30g of tobacco and alcohol per month, while a kilo of tobacco costs 20% more in Poland than in Belarus.

Ukraine has even planned to send troops to the border with Belarus.

But the border is especially felt by Moldovans.

According to the United Nations, a total of 80,000 Moldovans live in Ukraine. They work in the tobacco and dairy farming sectors, in car assembly plants and fish processing facilities.

They come to work on the border, which Belarusian authorities try to keep open to maintain profit margins for Belarusian importers and traders.

The UN says the measures mean Belarus is arbitrarily filtering migrants.

“Morally Belarus should not be using such a discriminatory system to send migrants back,” says Elissa Golberg of the UN’s International Organization for Migration.

What is being done about it?

Ms Golberg says the situation is “like a bubble” that hasn’t been permitted to deflate yet.

She’s hoping the new EU border measures will help and she’s watching Poland closely, especially if the problem worsens.

“Poland is a party to the Frontex agreement – they must do something to maintain and improve that,” she says.

So far, it doesn’t seem they have done enough.

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