Belarus: Facebook pages encouraged migrants to gather and cross to Poland

·3-min read

Several hundred migrants, including many Iraqi Kurds, banded together in an attempt to cross the border from Belarus into Poland on November 8, 2021. Images widely circulated online show the group approaching the border. Though Belarus has actively been pushing migrants towards the European Union since this summer, our team found that many of these migrants were encouraged to band together and take the dangerous route across the border by posts on Kurdish-language Facebook pages.

Videos showing hundreds of migrants on the road leading to the Kuznica-Bruzgi border post were widely circulated on Facebook, Twitter and Telegram on November 8, 2021.

Since August 2021, small groups of migrants have managed to cross the border from Belarus into Poland and Lithuania on a daily basis. This is the first time, however, that such a large group has tried to cross the border all at once.

>> Read more on The Observers: Belarus-Poland border: Migrants trapped in the forest

The European Union (EU) imposed sanctions on the government of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko after contested elections in August 2020 and the violent repression of the ensuing protests. The EU has accused Belarus of instrumentalising this flux of migrants in response to these sanctions.

A crossing planned for several days?

Posts calling for migrants in Belarus to band together and attempt a mass crossing were posted on several Kurdish-language pages in the days leading up to the event.

On November 6, a page called Ranj Pzhdary Journalist shared a video showing a migrant calling on young migrants in Belarus to gather “tomorrow between noon and 3pm to move towards the border".

The caption of the video includes a link to Google Maps showing a petrol station located about two kilometres from the Kuznica-Bruzgi post. That’s where the videos showing the large group attempting to cross were filmed.

The post garnered 195,000 views and received more than 1,500 comments. The video was then shared on the Telegram channel of the Belarusian opposition Nexta TV.

The petrol station is indeed not far away from the border.

On November 7, a page called Kurdisch News posted a video montage showing families coming to the same petrol station along with a map showing a location in the forest near route M6, the road leading towards the border post.

People seem to have been planning the crossing for several days at least. Belarusian opposition journalist Tadeusz Giczan reported that a Kurdisch News post from November 5 indicated that refugees would meet the next day in front of the Galeria shopping centre in Minsk to decide which day they should attempt to cross the border into Poland.

Our team took a closer look at these Facebook pages, which are mostly dedicated to information about migration towards Europe. Some posts minimise just how hard the crossing can be. A post shared on Kurdisch News on October 14, for example, says not to listen to those who say there aren’t roads, that the weather is bad, that it is cold and that you run the risk of being beaten. Both of these pages suggest joining Telegram groups to get more information about the crossing.

Based on the "Page Transparency" information provided by Facebook, both of these pages were created in 2019, well before the beginning of the migration crisis at Belarusian borders. The pages are run by people in Germany, Iraq and Greece.

The European Union and the United States called on November 8 for Belarus to put a stop to what they called an “orchestrated flux” of migrants, while the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has called on the European Union to impose new sanctions on Belarus. The spokesperson for the Polish government Piotr Muller accused the Belarusian secret services of being behind the attempted crossing. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko denied the accusations levied at his government.

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