Migrants captured in Belarus made several attempts to force their way into Poland overnight, Warsaw said on Wednesday, announcing that it had strengthened the border while the EU was preparing to impose sanctions on Belarus due to the crisis.
The bloc’s 27 ambassadors will agree on Wednesday that the growing number of migrants flying to Belarus to reach the EU border is equivalent to “hybrid warfare” by President Alexander Lukashenko – a legal basis for new sanctions.
“Mr Lukashenko … is unscrupulously exploiting people seeking refuge as hostages to his cynical power play,” Germany’s acting foreign minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter.
He described images from the Belarusian border where people are stuck in freezing conditions with little food and shelter as “terrible”, but said the EU could not be blackmailed.
The EU accuses Belarus of encouraging migrants – from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa – to try to cross the border illegally in retaliation for previous sanctions imposed on Minsk for human rights violations.
Lukashenko has refused to use the migrants as a weapon and on Wednesday won a new backing from his most powerful ally, Russia, which blamed the EU for the crisis and sent two strategic bombers to patrol Belarusian airspace.
“It is clear that a humanitarian catastrophe threatens against the background of Europeans’ reluctance to demonstrate commitment to their European values,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a briefing.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and called on Moscow to put pressure on Belarus over the situation at the border, a spokesman for the German government said. Putin’s office said he suggested to Merkel that EU members discuss the crisis directly with Minsk.
Thousands of people have turned up at the border this week, with barbed wire fences and Polish soldiers repeatedly blocking their access. Some of the migrants have used tree trunks, shovels and other tools to try to break through.
“It was not a quiet night. In fact, there were many attempts to break the Polish border,” Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told TV station PR1.
Video from the border obtained by Reuters showed small children and babies among the people stuck there.
“There are lots of families here with babies between two or four months old. They have not eaten anything in the last three days,” the person who provided the video told Reuters, saying they were a migrant themselves and refused to stay. named.
On Tuesday, the Polish border guard service reported 599 illegal border crossing attempts with nine people detained and 48 sent back. Blaszczak said the force of Polish soldiers stationed at the border had been strengthened to 15,000 from 12,000.
After midnight, two groups of migrants returned. One, there were about 200 people near the town of Bialowieza, and another of about two dozen were returned near Dubicze Cerkiewne, a spokeswoman told Reuters.
The EU neighbor Lithuania, which followed in Poland’s footsteps by imposing a state of emergency at the border on Tuesday, reported that 281 migrants were returned on the day, the highest number since August, when such setbacks began.
The EU accuses Lukashenko of using “gangster-like” tactics in the months-long border showdown in which at least seven migrants have died. The new EU sanctions will target about 30 people and entities, including the Belarusian foreign minister, three EU diplomats told Reuters.
Mr Lukashenko’s government blames Europe and the United States for the plight of the people stranded at the border.
Sanctions against Belarus
The crisis erupted after the EU, US and UK imposed sanctions on Belarus over its violent repression of mass protests in the streets triggered by Lukashenko’s controversial 2020 victory.
Lukashenko turned to traditional ally Russia for support and funding to get rid of the protests. The migrant crisis has given Moscow an opportunity to double its support for Belarus, a country it considers a strategic buffer against NATO, and criticize the EU.
Peskov accused the EU of trying to “suffocate” Belarus.
Poland denies allegations by humanitarian groups that they are violating the international right to asylum by chasing migrants back to Belarus instead of accepting their applications for protection. Warsaw says its actions are legal.
Some migrants have complained repeatedly of being pushed back and forth by Polish and Belarusian border guards, putting them at risk for exposure, lack of food and water.
“Yesterday we helped secure and evacuate a group of immigrants,” said Michal Swiatkowski, 30, a member of the Polish Red Cross rescue group from Ostrowiec Swietokrzyski.
“There were 16 people, most of them children. They did not require medical attention, even though we donated warm clothes, blankets and some food,” he told Reuters.