EU prepares to impose sanctions on Belarus as migrants try to breach Polish border

  • The European Union has agreed on the legal basis for imposing new sanctions on Belarus
  • Germany accuses Belarus leader of ‘cynical power game’
  • Belarus denies encouraging migrants to try to enter the European Union
  • The Kremlin says the EU is trying to “strangle” Belarus
  • Putin and Merkel talk on the phone about the border crisis

SUPRASEL, Poland (November 10) (Reuters) – Migrants trapped in Belarus made several attempts to forcefully enter Poland overnight, Warsaw said on Wednesday, announcing that it had reinforced borders as the European Union prepared to impose sanctions on Belarus over the crisis. .

The EU’s 27 ambassadors are set to agree on Wednesday that the growing numbers of migrants traveling to Belarus to reach the EU’s borders amount to a “hybrid war” by President Alexander Lukashenko – a legal basis for new sanctions.

“Mr. Lukashenko … exploits people who seek asylum as unscrupulous hostages because of his cynical power play,” acting German 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 “appalling” but said the EU could not be blackmailed.

The European Union accuses Belarus of encouraging migrants – from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa – to try to cross the border illegally in retaliation for earlier sanctions imposed on Minsk for human rights abuses.

Lukashenko denied using migrants as weapons and on Wednesday won a new show of support from his most powerful ally, Russia, which has blamed the European Union for the crisis and sent two strategic bombers to patrol Belarusian airspace.

“It is clear that a humanitarian catastrophe is looming against the background of the Europeans’ reluctance to show their commitment to their European values,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a news briefing.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and urged Moscow to pressure Belarus over the situation at the border, a German government spokesman said. Putin’s office said he had suggested to Merkel that EU members discuss the crisis directly with Minsk.

Thousands of people gathered at the border this week, where barbed wire fences and Polish soldiers repeatedly prevented them from entering. Some immigrants used logs, spades, and other tools in an attempt to break through.

“It was not a quiet night. In fact, there were several attempts to break through the Polish border,” Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told PR1.

A video from the border obtained by Reuters showed babies and young children among the people stranded there.

“There are a lot of families here with babies between two and four months old. They haven’t eaten anything for the past three days,” the person who provided the video told Reuters.

Hundreds of migrants camp on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland near Koznica Bialostoka, Poland, in this photo released by the Polish Ministry of Defense on November 10, 2021. MON / Handout via REUTERS

reinforcements

Polish border guards reported 599 attempts to illegally cross the border on Tuesday, with 9 arrested and 48 returned. Plaszak said the strength of Polish soldiers stationed at the border had boosted from 12,000 to 15,000.

After midnight, two groups of immigrants were turned back. A spokeswoman told Reuters that one of about 200 people was near the town of Bialowieza and another of about two dozen were turned back near Dubece Sirkeuen.

EU neighbor Lithuania, which followed Poland in imposing a state of emergency at its borders on Tuesday, reported 281 migrants turned back that day, the highest number since August when the pushbacks began.

The European Union accuses Lukashenko of using “gangster-style” tactics in the months-long border standoff in which at least seven migrants were killed. Three EU diplomats told Reuters that new EU sanctions will target about 30 individuals and entities, including Belarus’ foreign minister. Read more

Lukashenko’s government blames Europe and the United States for the plight of people stranded at the border.

The crisis erupted after the European Union, the United States and Britain imposed sanctions on Belarus for its violent crackdown on mass street protests sparked by Lukashenko’s controversial 2020 election victory.

Lukashenko turned to Russia, a traditional ally, for support and funding to weather the protests. The migrant crisis has given Moscow an opportunity to redouble its support for Belarus, a country it sees as a strategic buffer against NATO, and criticize the European Union.

Peskov accused the European Union of trying to “strangle” Belarus.

Poland denies accusations by humanitarian groups that it is violating the international right to asylum by returning migrants to Belarus rather than accepting their applications for protection. Warsaw says her actions are legal.

Some migrants complained of being repeatedly pushed back and forth by Polish and Belarusian border guards, putting them at risk of exposure, and lacking food and water.

“Yesterday we helped secure and evacuate one group of migrants,” said Michal Swietokrzyski, 30, a member of the Polish Red Cross rescue group from Ostrowiec Swietokrzyski.

“There were 16 people, mostly children. They did not need medical care, although we donated warm clothes, blankets and some food,” he told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Alan Sharlish in Suprasel, Poland, Andrios Setas in Kapsiamists, Lithuania, Joanna Plosinska, Anna Cooper and Paul Florkevich in Warsaw, Robin Emmott in Brussels, Kirsti Knoll in Berlin, Dmitriy Antonov and Maria Kisiliova in Moscow, Matthias Williams in Kiev; Writing by Mathias Williams; Editing by John Stonestreet and Philippa Fletcher

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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