Sometimes crises suddenly appear without warning. But sometimes they tell you ahead of time. In May 2021, in the wake of a diplomatic crisis between the European Union and Belarus, dictator Alexander Lukashenko warned that he would flood the EU with drugs and migrants in response to new sanctions. We used to stop them, he threatened, but "now you will eat them and catch them yourselves."
Reporters covering the funeral of a Kurdish infant at the Polish-Belarus Border
And that is precisely what happened with the "border crisis" at the Belarus border with Poland and Lithuania, peaking in October and November 2021 as tens of thousands of cold, desperate migrants, mostly from the Middle East, tried to break into European Union territory, abetted by the Belarus KGB. And behind Lukashenko, many saw Putin and Russian hybrid warfare. And even though the situation was clearly orchestrated by these Eastern European dictatorships, Poland was also harshly criticized for trying to defend its borders. The crisis was also a press event, with media outlets and NGOs covering it and often giving it an ideological spin based on the politics of the particular organization.
The use of desperate migrants as a political tool is not exactly new, but it is becoming more frequent, and threatens to become even more common in the near future with the looming specter of climate refugees coupled with intentional policies by dysfunctional and/or malicious states.
In 1975, Morocco used this people power in the 350,000-strong Green March invading then-Spanish Sahara as part of an ultimately successful strategy to acquire the colonial territory for Rabat. In 1980, the Communist Castro regime in Cuba used the Mariel boatlift to rid itself of dissidents and critics. With the 125,000 allowed to leave the country, Castro emptied the island's insane asylums and prisons, forcing boat owners to take them at gunpoint along with legitimate refugees. In both of these cases, governments weaponized their own citizens as cynical tools of statecraft.
Years later, when the Assad regime in Syria threatened to do the same, it was referring to its own citizens flooding into the EU. Later threats by Libyan dictator Muammar Al-Qaddafi, by the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbullah, and by Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan involved using citizens from other countries, either Syrians or Sub-Saharan Africans, to be launched against the EU as a response to governments and policies they despised. Hizbullah MP in Lebanon Muhammad Raed boasted in 2019 that "all we have to do is wave the card of Syrian refugees and all the European countries will kneel before us."
What Hizbullah threatened, Turkey actually did, beginning in 2015. In 2016, the EU struck a migration deal, paying Turkey billions of euros and stanching the flow, but in early 2020 Erdogan launched tens of thousands of migrants against Greece. At the time, Erdogan said: "I told them it's done. It's finished. The doors are now open. Since we have opened the borders, the number of refugees heading toward Europe has reached the hundreds of thousands. This number will soon be in the millions."
Despite harsh criticism from international organizations and the refugee industrial complex, Greece stood firm, received clear EU backing, and eventually the flood slackened, although the pressure remains.
Before the Belarus escalation, the latest example of demographic escalation was earlier this year when Morocco lifted border controls on the border with Spain's African city of Ceuta for two days in May 2021, allowing over 10,000 migrants, mostly men and boys from Morocco and Sub-Saharan Africa, to enter the city, which is an EU enclave on Morocco's African coast. Morocco was retaliating against Madrid for allowing the head of the anti-Moroccan Western Sahara rebel group POLISARIO into Spain to receive medical treatment. The key partner of Spain's ruling Socialist Party (PSOE), the Communist Podemos/IU group, is a supporter of the POLISARIO, as are the Basque and Catalan separatists.
In the case of Belarus, Turkey, and Morocco, EU countries held the line – more or less – at the border, and were able to temporarily defuse the situation through a combination of diplomacy and financial blandishments. The perpetrators were rewarded and nothing was really solved, only delayed or temporarily diminished.
Meanwhile, pressure builds up both inside Europe and in these migrants' regions of origin, particularly the Middle East and North Africa – the world's most dysfunctional region. In Europe, the debate on migration and refugees continues with powerful forces both for and against. Some in Europe, especially on the Left, would welcome more migration, particularly given the birth dearth among Europeans. Open borders communists like Spain's Podemos see migration from Muslim and African countries as a cynical way of recruiting more voters. Still others know that sharp immigration flows will trigger great political polarization in the old continent, including strengthening the rise of populist conservative parties, from Spain to Eastern Europe – an outcome the Eurocrat elite would prefer to avoid.
The pressure from the Middle East and North Africa comes from states, most of which have been unsuccessful in governance and appear to be increasingly incapable of improving their citizens' standard of living. Most of the illegal migrants coming to Spain are poorly educated young men from Algeria and Morocco. Those at the Belarus border came from Syria and Iraq, and most of them were not refugees but people looking for a better life.
Polls taken in recent years show that huge percentages of Middle East populations would like to migrate to the West. A 2020 survey found 42% of Arab youth considering emigrating, with 15% actively trying to do so. The same survey in 2021 found that regional number had declined to 33%, but the individual country figures are still huge. Overall, 68% of Sudanese, 56% of Moroccans, 48% of Lebanese and 47% of Jordanians would consider emigrating. And of the top five immigration destinations, only one, the UAE, is in the region. The other choices are, in order of preference, Canada, the U.S., Germany, and France. And all these numbers reflect the situation now, rather than a few years from now when the full effect of regime dysfunction and climate change will be fully felt.
And, of course, these pressures are not unique to Europe. The U.S., even though it has been much more successful historically in dealing with migration, faces similar pressures. For example, how will America's current, extremely volatile, and mostly binary racial "moment" (typified by BLM and Critical Race Theory ideologies and responses to them) handle a future America which could see skyrocketing Hispanic and Asian populations while the African-American and White share of the population remains flat or decreases? These new immigrant populations could well tip the demographic and political balance in ways undreamed of to date.
The weaponization of migration flows began in an era before climate change. So far, the combination of tools available to governments – enforcement, acceptance, diplomacy, bribery – have held, barely. But there will indeed be a reckoning in coming years, for which current policies, procedures and partisan politics are not fully prepared.
*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.
 Theweek.co.uk/news/world-news/europe/952979/belarus-dictator-threatens-flood-eu-with-drugs-migrants-avoid-sanctions, May 20, 2021.
 Hrw.org/news/2021/11/24/belarus/poland-abuse-pushbacks-border#, November 24, 2021.
 Annahar.com/english/article/1045737-hezbollah-threatens-europe-with-syrian-refugees, October 9, 2019.
 Brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/03/17/as-eu-turkey-migration-agreement-reaches-the-five-year-mark-add-a-job-creation-element, March 17, 2021.
 Quillette.com/2020/03/03/as-erdogan-weaponizes-turkeys-migrants-greece-pays-the-price, March 3, 2020.
 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 280, Ceuta Countdown: Morocco's Hybrid Struggle With Spain, June 1, 2021.
 Reuters.com/world/europe/polish-border-guard-reports-more-incidents-belarus-frontier-2021-11-24, November 24, 2021.
 Politico.eu/article/eu-migrants-asylum-economy-afghanistan, August 19, 2021.
 Elpais.com/espana/2020-05-22/frontex-alerta-de-una-mayor-actividad-de-las-mafias-en-la-migracion-desde-argelia.html, May 22, 2020.
 Apnews.com/article/immigration-business-lifestyle-poland-middle-east-32e3e7ee647ef6c3bdf40f4573c55c0f, November 24, 2021.
 Mei.edu/publications/extreme-heat-urgent-climate-impact, October 20, 2021.
 Americanmind.org/salvo/identity-politics-isnt-our-demographic-destiny, February 25, 2021.