By Katelin Wright, 2021-22 Climate Security Fellow
The views expressed in this briefer are those of the author and do not represent the position of the Center for Climate and Security or the Council on Strategic Risks.
In the summer of 2021, several European Union (EU) countries began to see an influx of irregular migration from neighboring Belarus. Migrants, including children, from throughout the Middle East, Africa, and some as far away as Cuba, overwhelmed border officials in Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland as they attempted to enter the EU. The ensuing humanitarian crisis was not spontaneous but rather a well-calculated act of retaliation on behalf of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. In response to EU sanctions placed on Belarus over its repression of protests against a fraudulent presidential election, Lukashenko used vulnerable migrants and refugees as political pawns. Deploying a combination of misinformation and disinformation, Lukashenko encouraged people considering migration to come to Belarus as a means to enter the EU. The case of Belarus demonstrates how weaker states can employ unconventional tactics to fight against stronger nations. Although portrayed by the media as a new precedent, countries have weaponized migrants before. Cuba, Turkey, and Morocco, to name a few, have used similar tactics in the past. While weaponized migration might not be entirely new, it is likely to become increasingly common as intensifying climate change contributes to further human displacement and migration. In this context, nations, including the United States, should get ahead of the phenomenon by changing their approach to climate migration – through policies that recognize and address the role climate change plays in decisions to migrate.
This briefer explores the complex and multicausal drivers of migration–from escaping violence to displacement caused by climate change–and suggests how the United States can reform its immigration policies to mitigate the risks of weaponized climate-driven migration.