Poland has accused Lukashenko of trying to plan a crisis on the EU’s eastern border in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Minsk in June. Lukashenko’s government has repeatedly denied the allegations, accusing the West of mistreating, sometimes dangerous, cross-border and mistreating immigrants.
International criticism of Belarus escalated on Tuesday, with the European Commission accusing it of acting like a “gang regime” and criticizing Lukashenko’s “false promises” that deceived immigrants into believing they could easily “enter the EU”.
The diplomatic drama comes a day after the ugly scenes on Monday, when groups of immigrants tried to cross the border, some of whom were pushed into the barricades by Belarusian services, according to the Polish border guard.
Polish authorities closed the Kuznica border crossing on Tuesday morning – where large numbers of migrants had been spotted the previous day.
About 4,500 immigrants are currently trying to cross the border near Belarus from Belarus to Poland, Polish border guard Evelina Zhepanska told CNN.
The Belarusian state border committee, which is in charge of the country’s outer borders, said in a statement that there were about 2,000 migrants at the scene.
About 14,000 Polish soldiers, police and border guards are now stationed in the area, raising fears of a major conflict as migrants try to cross into Poland.
According to journalist Juergen Weichert, who works for CNN German subsidiary n-tv in Kuznica, the situation on the ground was calm on Tuesday. Weichard said Polish police were trying to clear the area as much as possible and that migrants on the Belarusian side of the fence were trying to pass through the barbed wire north and south of the closed Kuznica Pass.
Footage provided by the Belarus State Border Committee showed immigrants covered in coats and hoods around small campfires, while aerial footage showed camps on the Belarusian side of the border near nearby forests. The video also showed the movement of what appeared to be military vehicles on the Polish side.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned on Tuesday that the situation was endangering the security of the entire EU and again accusing Belarus of preparing for a “hybrid attack”.
“Sealing the Polish border is in our national interest. But today the stability and security of the entire EU is at stake,” Moraviki said during a visit to troops along the border on Tuesday.
“This hybrid attack of Lukashenko’s regime is aimed at all of us. We will not be afraid and will keep the peace in Europe with NATO and our partners in the European Union,” he added.
On Monday, Szczepańska said groups of immigrants were trying to force their way across the border. The Polish Ministry of Defense tweeted on Monday that a major attempt had been made to cross the border and that immigrants had set up a camp that was “constantly guarded by Belarusian services.”
In several videos of Polish officials, hundreds of migrants could be seen walking towards the border. In one clip, some were shown trying to break through a fence with shovels, wire cutters and brutal force.
The Polish border guard recorded 309 attempts to cross the border illegally on Monday and detained 17 people, Szczepańska added. He said Poland had stopped attempts to cross the border with more than 32,000 people since September, mainly from immigrants from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Many of the border settlers hope to travel deeper from Poland to Western Europe. In Germany, the Federal Police said in a statement that 595 illegal entries were registered in November alone on the border with the state of Brandenburg in Poland. The state of Brandenburg borders most of the German-Polish border.
German officials added that so far this year Belarus has registered 4,890 registrations with the annexation.
On Tuesday, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said EU countries should “stick together” and help the Polish government secure its borders. “Poland provides a vital service to the EU,” Sehofer added.
Conflict on the border increases
The European Commission said on Tuesday that the EU would impose further sanctions on Belarus to encourage illegal entry into Poland. At its daily conference, Peter Stano, a leading spokesman for the Commission on Foreign Affairs, said there was an ongoing debate among member states over additional sanctions “along the way.”
The spokesman stressed that Lukashenko’s “irrational and irresponsible behavior” was a sign that he was “feeling increasing pressure” from EU sanctions.
“Why do we have reason to believe that sanctions are biting? Because the Lukashenko regime is beginning to act like a thug regime, it hurts them and they do not know what else to do. So, they are trying to undermine it. European union.”
Meanwhile, a NATO coalition official warned that it was “ready” to come to the aid of its allies and called on Belarus to “abide by international law.”
The official added: “The Lukashenko regime’s use of immigrants as a mixed tactic is unacceptable. The secretary general is in close contact with allied governments on this issue.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described Minskin’s actions as “unacceptable” and said he had spoken to Polish President Andrzej Duda about the situation.
Increases concern over immigrants
Amid international criticism, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday warned Poland that “among them are children and women under the age of majority, to justify possible illegal acts of violence against backward armed forces operating against the Republic of Belarus.”
According to a statement from the Kremlin on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko “exchanged views on the situation with refugees” on the Belarusian border.
Meanwhile, the Belarusian state border committee said in a statement on Tuesday that it had deployed military equipment along the Polish border.
“Currently, a chain of Polish security forces is marching in front of the refugee camp, with equipment, including war vehicles, being towed together. Representatives of the media, international human rights and humanitarian organizations are not allowed to cross the border. Has been said.
The group said some of the refugees were unwell as they used loudspeakers and strobe lights overnight following the Polish use of tear gas. It also said there were ‘significant numbers’ of pregnant women and children among border immigrants.
UNHCR spokeswoman Shafia Mandu told a conference in Geneva on Tuesday that “we are shocked by what we see from the Belarus-Poland border.”
“We have repeatedly stated that the use of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants for political purposes is unacceptable and must be stopped,” Mandu added.
CNN’s Zahra Ullah, Anna Chernova, Stephanie Halasz, Inke Kappeler, Allegra Goodwin, Niamh Kennedy, James Frater and Duarte Mendonca contributed to the report.
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