EU pledges Belarus unity as Poland reports new border incidents

  • EU chief executive announces new anti-trafficking measures
  • Polish prime minister says diplomacy helps reduce migrant flows to Belarus
  • No more crossing attempts reported at the border

WARSAW / STRASBOURG, November 23 (Reuters) – Thousands of people stranded at the European Union’s eastern border represent an attempt by Belarus to destabilize the bloc, rather than a migrant crisis, and as such call for a coordinated response, the EU chief executive said on Tuesday.

Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament that the bloc of 27 countries stands in solidarity with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, which are bearing the brunt of what the EU says is President Alexander Lukashenko’s ploy to trigger a crisis by bringing migrants to Belarus and then pushing them beyond EU borders.

“It is the EU as a whole that is being challenged,” said von der Leyen. “This is not a migration crisis. It is an attempt by an authoritarian regime to try to destabilize its Democratic neighbors.” Read more

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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Warsaw’s diplomatic efforts were helping reduce the number of migrants heading to Belarus in the hope of entering the EU, but Poland and its neighbors have warned the border crisis was far from over.

Morawiecki, speaking after meeting with Hungarian, Czech and Slovak leaders in Budapest, said Poland was in talks with the governments of Iraq, Turkey, Uzbekistan and others.

Poland, at odds with Brussels over accusations it violates the rule of law, has also reached out to its European partners.

A government spokesperson tweeted that Morawiecki will meet with French President Emanuel Macron on Wednesday and Polish media have announced plans for meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the meetings with Merkel and Johnson.

BLACK LIST OF TRAVEL COMPANIES

Von der Leyen said the EU is also coordinating its response to the Lukashenko challenge with its non-European partners – the US, Canada and Britain.

To deter intermediaries transporting migrants to Belarus from helping Minsk, the EU would create a blacklist of travel agencies involved in smuggling and smuggling migrants, she said.

According to European Commissioner Margaritis Schinas, this would provide the EU with a legal tool to suspend or limit the operations of companies, or even ban them from the EU if they were involved in human trafficking.

“It’s not a migration crisis, it’s a security crisis,” Schinas noted. According to the EU, more than 40,000 attempts to enter the EU via the Belarusian border were prevented in 2021.

Migrants gather during snowfall at a transport and logistics center near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region of Belarus on November 23, 2021. REUTERS / Kacper Pempel

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The EU has imposed sanctions on Belarus after Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on protests against his disputed re-election last year, and Brussels earlier this month agreed to extend those sanctions to airlines, travel agencies and agencies. travel and people involved in the migrant movement.

CHANGE OF TACTICS

Minsk has cleared migrant camps at the border and accepted the first repatriation flights in months last week and announced on Tuesday that around 120 migrants had left on November 22 with more to follow.

But authorities in Warsaw said repeated incidents at the border showed Minsk may have changed tactics but not given up on its intention to use migrants fleeing the Middle East and other hot spots like a weapon at an impasse with the EU.

Border guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said around 50 migrants attempted to cross on Monday evening, 18 of whom briefly crossed the barbed wire fence.

Another group of similar size gathered but eventually gave up on attempting to cross to another location.

“There are repeated attempts to cross the border and they will continue,” Stanislaw Zaryn, spokesperson for Polish special services, told reporters.

Polish authorities estimate that around 10,000 or more migrants could still be in Belarus, he said, creating the potential for further problems.

Lukashenko, who denies the claim he fomented the crisis, has pressured the EU and Germany in particular to accept some migrants while Belarus repatriates others, a demand the bloc has so far categorically rejected.

Aid agencies say as many as 13 migrants have died at the border, where many have suffered in a cold and humid forest with little food or water as winter sets in.

Reuters was present when Syrian siblings who had entered Poland from Belarus were arrested by border guards near the town of Siemiatycze on Tuesday, as the first snow of winter fell on forests around the border . Read more

Abruptly recalling the human toll of the crisis, the imam of the Polish village of Bohoniki buried an unborn child who died on the Polish-Belarusian border in his mother’s womb on Tuesday.

Halikari Dhaker’s mother miscarried as she, her husband and their five children crossed the border through dense forests and wetlands. Read more

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Reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Alan Charlish, Jan Strupczewski, Marine Strauss, Sabine Siebold, Andrius Sytas, Yara Abi Nader, Marko Djurica, Fedja Grulovic, Stephan Schepers, Felix Hoske, Sergiy Karazy, Andreas Rinke; Writing by Tomasz Janowski; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alex Richardson

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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