Your Thursday Briefing

Aleksandr Lukashenko, the Belarusian leader whom the E.U. accuses of engineering a migrant crisis on the border with Poland, could face a serious headache if thousands of asylum seekers try to stay in his country.

Belarus is a poor, highly repressive former Soviet republic with little to offer in the way of jobs and other opportunities. But for some migrants, remaining in place seems more enticing than either returning to their home countries or facing off against Polish soldiers and border guards. “Belarus is a very, very good country,” one migrant observed.

A rush of people seeking asylum could be problematic for Lukashenko. Belarus has little experience in taking in immigrants, and it has generally been hostile to non-Christian settlers from outside Europe. For weeks, it has denounced its neighbors for violating international law by refusing to consider asylum requests from those who make it across the border.

Show of support: An unofficial network in Poland has been working to support those who have made it across from Belarus, including by placing a green light in a window to show migrants that they are safe to ask for help.

Explainer: The Poland-Belarus standoff is unlike recent migrant crises. Here’s why.

Related: A Greek trial for two dozen aid workers, some of them foreigners, is set to start today. They are charged with espionage over their role in helping migrants who arrived in the country from 2016 to 2018.

In parts of Europe, vaccine resistance has become the long tail of the populist nationalist movements that shook up European politics for a decade.

Pockets of unvaccinated people are driving the latest rounds of contagion, straining hospital wards and endangering economic recoveries. In response, many governments are resorting to thinly veiled coercion with a mix of mandates, inducements and punishments.

In countries like France, which requires a vaccine passport to enter most social venues, the measures are working. But regional resistance against the Covid vaccine remains. In Central and Eastern Europe — and in the German-speaking countries and regions bordering them — the problem is more stubborn.

Background: Sociologists say that, in these regions, vaccine resistance is fueled by an influential culture of alternative medicine and by a strong tradition of decentralized government that tends to feed distrust of rules imposed from the capital. The far-right ecosystem in those regions knows how to exploit both.

Quotable: “It shows the success of the far-right cheerleading on this issue and the failure of mainstream politicians to take it seriously enough,” Pia Lamberty of CeMAS, a research organization focused on disinformation and conspiracy theories, said of anti-vaccine sentiment.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

On his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa, Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, hoped to ease the turmoil engulfing Sudan and Ethiopia. But tensions in both countries worsened on his first full day there.

In Khartoum, Sudan, security forces shot and killed at least 15 pro-democracy protesters and wounded many others in the deadliest violence since a military coup on Oct. 25. In Ethiopia, a civil war continued to rage, as the beleaguered prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, once a darling of the West, lashed out at international critics.

Speaking to reporters in Kenya, Blinken said the war in Ethiopia “needs to stop,” calling on both sides to enter talks without preconditions. He renewed his call for the reinstatement of Abdalla Hamdok, the Sudanese prime minister who was deposed in the coup last month and has since been held under house arrest.

Background: Blinken’s visit to East Africa came after months of intensive engagement by his regional envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, who has been shuttling between capitals in recent weeks in a frantic scramble for diplomatic solutions.

Americans’ appetite for leather upholstery in luxury vehicles is helping to drive illegal deforestation in the Amazon, an investigation from The Times has found.

Although most ranches in the region aren’t connected to illegal deforestation, the findings show how illegal leather enters the global supply chain, circumventing a system created by slaughterhouses and leather companies to try to show the legitimacy of their cattle ranches.

The swimsuits and sashes are still there, but in recent years, competitors at beauty pageants have used the contests to raise awareness of social issues, as Miss Universe Myanmar, Ma Thuzar Wint Lwin, above, did this year about the junta in her country.

But few people have had to make the decision asked of the newest beauty queen in South Africa: Live out her childhood dream, or show global solidarity.

Activists and the South African government have called on Lalela Mswane, who was crowned Miss South Africa 2021, to boycott the Miss Universe pageant in Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians, with whom the governing African National Congress has a longstanding and close relationship.

“We would be very disingenuous and really quite frankly pathetic to associate ourselves with such inhumanity,” the spokeswoman for South Africa’s Sport, Arts and Culture Ministry said.

The ministry is threatening to “disassociate” itself from the pageant, but it’s unclear what this will mean — whether Mswane will be allowed to wave the South African flag or even identify herself as Miss South Africa if she competes.

Miss Malaysia and Miss Indonesia have said they will not take part. Now Mswane, a 24-year-old law graduate, will have to take a position on an issue that has divided and stumped diplomats and presidents for decades. — Lynsey Chutel

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