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White Space warns authoritarians the usage of migrants as guns

WASHINGTON D.C.: As increased instability and climate change drive more people from their homes, the White House has voiced concern that migration is being used as a weapon.

U.S. officials have accused Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of being the latest to take advantage of desperate migrants by bringing them from war-torn nations to the Belarus border to create a humanitarian crisis and put political pressure on Belarus’ European neighbors.

“People are being used as pawns in a terrible, terrible game,” said Ivo Daalder, who served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO during the Obama administration. “It takes a particularly evil mindset to see that people and their vulnerability and humanity can actually be used as a means to achieve political ends.”

Last month, images were circulated of desperate people from Africa, the Middle East and even Cuba trapped – and dying – in the cold forest trying to cross the border into Poland.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who traveled to Washington D.C. late last month to discuss the crisis with President Biden, called the use of migrants a “hybrid attack.”

“This is not a migration crisis,” she told reporters at the White House. “This is an attempt by an authoritarian regime to try to destabilize its democratic neighbors. This will not succeed.”

But Karolina Lukasiewicz, a fellow at the Centre of Migration Research at the University of Warsaw, said Lukashenko succeeded in getting some recognition from the European and the international communities, with world leaders talking to him now.

“Until very recently, European leaders have not been speaking to Lukashenko,” she said. “He was not recognized as a legal president,” as quoted by the BBC.

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She also accused the Polish government of taking advantage of the crisis to garner support among anti-migrant groups in Poland, and divert criticism over its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Describing the practice as part of an increasing trend of using migrants in asymmetric warfare, Daalder said Lukashenko is not the first leader to see opportunity in a migration crisis.

“What we’re seeing is certain leaders being willing to find another tool to gain leverage over a stronger adversary, and to do so in ways that might not have been conceivable,” he said.

Noting this, the White House issued a report warning that increasing climate-related migration could be used by malign actors to “induce political instability in several ways.”

One concern is that Russia or China could try to take advantage of migration caused by climate change.
The White House says Russia is already attempting to benefit from anti-migrant sentiment in Europe, while China is looking to curry favor by providing support for countries “grappling with political unrest related to migration.”

Sherri Goodman, a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said China is using all its “instruments of political influence.”

The White House emphasizes that migration is not just a problem overseas.

Migration from Central America is a significant political challenge in the U.S. – and could be exploited by adversaries.

Which is another reason the White House argues that the U.S. should be a model for humane migration for the rest of the world.