Hundreds of migrants stuck at Poland-Belarus border
Hundreds of migrants shivered in freezing temperatures and huddled round campfires on the Belarusian border with Poland on Tuesday in front of razor wire fences and lines of Polish border guards blocking their entry into the European Union.
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 has prompted calls for tighter sanctions on Minsk.
Meanwhile, Poland reinforced its border with Belarus with more riot police on Tuesday, a day after groups of migrants tried to storm through a razor-wire fence on the eastern frontier where thousands have camped on the Belarusian side in the tense standoff.
The European Union accuses Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns in a "hybrid attack” against the bloc in retaliation for imposing sanctions on the authoritarian government for a brutal internal crackdown on dissent. Thousands were jailed and beaten following months of protests after Lukashenko won a sixth term in a 2020 election that the opposition and the West saw as rigged.
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 already slapped on Minsk over human rights abuses.
"The Belarusian regime is attacking the Polish border, the EU, in an unparalleled manner," Polish President Andrzej Duda told a news conference in Warsaw.
"We currently 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 European Union."
Lukashenko's government, which is backed by Russia, denies manufacturing the migrant crisis and blames Europe and the United States 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 a briefing.
The United Nations 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.