Poland Says Belarus Ferries Migrants Back to Border After Clearing Camps

By Reuters
Reuters
Reuters
November 19, 2021 Updated: November 19, 2021

BIELSK PODLASKI, Poland/BRUZGI, Belarus—Poland accused Belarus on Friday of trucking hundreds of migrants back to the border and pushing them to attempt to cross illegally, only hours after clearing camps at a frontier that has become the focus of an escalating East-West crisis.

The accusation by Poland suggests the crisis has not been resolved by an apparent change of tack by Minsk, which on Thursday had cleared the main camps by the border and allowed the first repatriation flight to Iraq in months.

European governments accuse Belarus of flying in thousands of people from the Middle East and pushing them to attempt to illegally cross the EU border, where several people have died in the freezing woods. Belarus denies fomenting the crisis.

Polish Border Guard spokesperson Anna Michalska said that by Thursday evening, just hours after clearing the camps, Belarus authorities were already trucking hundreds back and forcing them to try to cross in darkness.

“(The Belarusians) were bringing more migrants to the place where there was a forced attempt to cross,” Michalska said. “At the beginning there were 100 people, but then the Belarusian side brought more people in trucks. Then there were 500 people.”

When the migrants tried to cross the border, Belarusian troops blinded Polish guards with lasers, she told a news conference. Some migrants had thrown logs and four guards sustained minor injuries.

Access to the border on the Polish side is restricted by a state of emergency, making it difficult to verify her account.

In an interview with the BBC, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko repeated denials that he had orchestrated the crisis but, asked if Belarus was helping migrants try and cross into Poland, he said: “I think that’s absolutely possible. We’re Slavs. We have hearts. Our troops know the migrants are going to Germany. Maybe someone helped them. I won’t even look into this.”

Europeans have shunned Lukashenko since a disputed election last year, but reached out cautiously this week, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking to Lukashenko twice by phone.

However, on Thursday the European Commission and Germany rejected a proposal that Minsk said Lukashenko had made to Merkel, under which EU countries would take in 2,000 migrants, while 5,000 others would be sent back home..

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that the situation on the borders remained deeply concerning.

“Lukashenko’s regime’s use of vulnerable people as a means to put pressure on other countries is cynical and inhumane,” he said. “NATO stands in full solidarity with all affected allies.”

Reuters