Migrants sit around a bonfire in a camp near Bruzgi-Kuznica checkpoint on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, Belarus. Image Credit: Reuters

Xenophobia, pushbacks, and violence cannot be justified by the European Union leaders who are ignoring the current human catastrophe on the Poland-Belarus border, an angry Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told the European Parliament few days ago. And he has all the right to be angry.

The refugee crisis at the border between the two hostile countries is just getting worse. Thousands of forced migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, including women and children, gather in sub-zero temperatures on the border hoping to cross into EU. Without adequate shelter or food, the refugees face hypothermia and even broken bones and beatings. Confirmed reports said at least 11 people have died in recent days — some due to weather-related illnesses, others succumbed to their injuries following clashes with Polish troops.

Poland had declared a state of emergency and deployed thousands of troops to stop the advance of the refugees using deadly force, in spite of strong condemnation of humanitarian groups and even few fellow EU members. Poland, supported by many EU states point fingers at the Belarussian President Aleksander Lukashenko’s government, accusing them of “unleashing” thousands of refugees towards the Polish border. Refugees are being used as political weapons in retaliation to the EU sanctions against Belarus, imposed in June.

Meanwhile, on the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are reports of “systematic violence” by Croatian police against migrants who attempt to cross. The reports claim “migrants were reportedly stripped naked, raped and beaten.” Lithuania too declared a state of emergency along its border with Belarus and stationed troops on ‘high alert’. The EU chief foreign policy official called on the EU states to be “united” in their “response” to what he says Belarus’ “inhuman instrumentalisation of migrants”. He failed to mention Poland and Croatia’s abuse of the frightened, hungry and shivering migrants on their borders.

What the EU is doing right now is “me first; my country first” approach to this human tragedy, says Grandi. Europe has failed in this crisis to practice what it preaches. Their attitude to the current crisis, which as Grandi said, stems from xenophobia, shudders the once unique ‘European project’ — the promotion of peace, human rights, human dignity, security and justice.

Nations have failed to help the thousands of vulnerable people on their borders. The EU is naturally as guilty as any other party in this crisis.

Meanwhile, as Iraq stepped up efforts to repatriate its citizens from Belarus, it is upon other countries to do the same. These governments, by failing to provide dignified and decent life to their citizens, are basically the reason these people have left their homes in the first place. It’s their duty now to bring back them back home. However, that does not absolve Europe of its shameful response to the crisis.