EU accuses Belarus of ‘gangster’ methods as migrants shudder at border with Poland
Hundreds of migrants gathered around campfires near the Belarus-Poland border on Tuesday, where barbed wire fences and Polish border guards blocked their entry into the European Union.
The EU has pledged more sanctions against Belarus, accusing President Alexander Lukashenko of using “gangster” tactics in the months-long border standoff in which at least seven migrants died.
Poland and other EU member states accuse Belarus of encouraging migrants – from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa – to illegally cross the border into the EU in revenge for sanctions imposed on Minsk for human rights violations.
“The Belarusian regime is attacking the Polish border, the EU, in an unprecedented way,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said at a press conference in Warsaw.
“We currently have a camp for migrants who are stranded on the Belarusian side. There are about 1,000 people, mostly young men. These are aggressive actions that we must repel, fulfilling our obligations as a member of the European Union.
Reuters journalists saw Polish border guards arrest a group of migrants in a forest on the Polish side of the border on Tuesday afternoon. Doctors have been seen putting blankets around some migrants. A woman was unable to walk.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiekci, who had previously visited Polish troops stationed at the border, said migrants are being used by Belarus as part of a “new kind of war in which people are used as human shields” .
Lukashenko’s government, backed by Russia, denies conceiving of the migrant crisis and blames Europe and the United States for the fate of those stranded at the border.
He summoned Poland’s defense attaché on Tuesday to protest against what he called unfounded allegations about Belarusian military involvement in the crisis.
Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation by telephone and expressed concern over the strengthening of Polish troops at the border, the official Belarusian news agency Belta reported on Tuesday.
“To wage a war with these unfortunate people on the border of Poland with Belarus and to advance columns of tanks – it is clear that this is either a training exercise or a blackmail”, he said Lukashenko said in television commentaries.
“We will calmly oppose this,” he added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that the EU provide Belarus with financial assistance to stop the flow of migrants, referring to an earlier deal with Turkey.
Hundreds of migrants stranded at the border between Poland and Belarus, further clashes feared
The European Commission said around 2,000 migrants were now gathered at the border.
“This is part of the Lukashenko regime’s inhuman and truly gangster-style approach that it lies to people, it abuses people … and brings them to Belarus under the false promise of easy entry into the country. EU, “said a Commission spokesperson.
EU governments have partially suspended an agreement on visa facilitation for Belarusian officials.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has called for an end to the use of vulnerable people as political pawns.
A spokesman for the Polish special services, Stanislaw Zaryn, said Belarusian security personnel “fired empty shots in the air, simulating dangerous events,” while providing tools to migrants to help them destroy the border fence.
On Monday, some migrants used shovels and other tools in an attempt to break down the border fence.
Polish border guards recorded 309 illegal attempts to cross the border on Monday and arrested 17 people, mostly Iraqis.
Poland blocks migrants at Belarusian border, warns of “armed” escalation
Lithuania also reported an increase in attempts to cross migrants and followed in Poland’s footsteps by declaring a state of emergency on its border on Tuesday.
This decision allows border guards to use “mental coercion” and “proportional physical violence” to stop migrants.
The crisis erupted after Western powers imposed sanctions on Belarus for its violent crackdown on mass street protests that were sparked by Lukashenko’s claim to victory in a presidential election in 2020.
His opponents say the vote was rigged, which he denies.
Aid groups accuse Poland of violating international asylum rights by pushing migrants back to Belarus instead of accepting their requests for protection. Poland claims its actions are legal.
A poll by IBRiS for the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita this week showed that 55% of Poles believe that migrants who have crossed the border illegally should be turned away.