Migrants gather near a barbed wire fence in an attempt to cross the border with Poland in the Grodno region, Belarus, November 8 2021. Picture: REUTERS/BElTA/LEONID SCHEGLOV
Migrants gather near a barbed wire fence in an attempt to cross the border with Poland in the Grodno region, Belarus, November 8 2021. Picture: REUTERS/BElTA/LEONID SCHEGLOV

Hundreds of migrants shivered in freezing weather huddled around campfires on the Belarusian border with Poland on Tuesday facing  razor wire fences and lines of Polish border guards blocking their entry into the EU.

Polish authorities were bracing for further clashes after some migrants used logs, spades and other implements on Monday to try to break down a border fence, escalating a months-long crisis that prompted calls for tougher  sanctions against Minsk.

Poland and other EU member states accuse Belarus of encouraging illegal migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa to cross the border into the EU in revenge for sanctions against Minsk for human rights abuses.

“The Belarusian regime is attacking the Polish border, the EU, in an unparalleled manner,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told reporters in Warsaw.

“We now have a camp of migrants who are blocked from the Belarusian side. There are about 1,000 people there, mostly young men. These are aggressive actions that we must repel, fulfilling our obligations as a member of the EU.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government, which is backed by Russia, denies contriving the migrant crisis and blames Europe and the US for the plight of the people stranded at the border.

The European Commission said on Tuesday Belarus was taking a “gangster-style” approach to the issue by illegally offering migrants easy entrance into the EU via its territory. It said more sanctions against Minsk were on the way.

“The citizens of these countries (in the Middle East and elsewhere) are being misused, are being made victims by state-sponsored activities,” a commission spokesperson told reporters.

UN refugee agency UNHCR also called for an end to the use of vulnerable people as political pawns.

EU governments partially suspended a visa facilitation deal for Belarusian officials.

'Dangerous events'

A spokesperson for Poland’s special services, Stanislaw Zaryn, said Belarusian security personnel were “firing empty shots into the air, simulating dangerous events” to further destabilise the situation at the border.

“We also know the Belarusian authorities are helping migrants to destroy the border barriers. We see how they bring them tools to cut wires ... to destroy the fence,” he said. 

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki visited the area early on Tuesday to show support for the thousands of additional soldiers, police and border guards deployed there.

Footage published by the Polish police on Tuesday showed migrants’ tents and campfires on the Belarusian side of the barbed wire fence. Poland’s border guard said it had registered 309 attempts to cross the border illegally on Monday and 17 people, mainly Iraqis, had been detained.

EU member states trace the roots of the migrant crisis to Belarus’s contested presidential election in 2020 when Lukashenko claimed a sixth successive term, triggering mass street protests that security forces quelled violently.

The US, the EU and Britain then imposed sanctions on Minsk. They have accused Lukashenko and his security forces of encouraging and sometimes shepherding the migrants to cross the EU border through Poland and Lithuania in a form of hybrid warfare in revenge for the sanctions.

The Kremlin praised on Tuesday what it called the “responsible” work of Belarusian security personnel at the border and said it was in close contact with Minsk on the crisis. It called on all sides to act responsibly.

Humanitarian groups accuse Poland’s ruling nationalists of violating the international right to asylum by pushing the migrants back into Belarus instead of accepting their applications for protection. Poland says its actions are legal.

An IBRiS pollfor Polish daily Rzeczpospolita this week found about 55% of Poles believe migrants who crossed the border illegally should be pushed back, while a third do not. 

Poland said seven migrants had to date been found dead on its side of the border. More deaths were reported in Belarus. 

Reuters

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