The European Union will intensify sanctions against Belarus, which on Monday (15) classified as “absurd” Western accusations that it is triggering an immigration crisis that has left up to 4,000 people trapped in frozen forests on its border with Poland.
EU foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels to reach an agreement on new measures to put pressure on Belarus, where veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko cracked down on protesters who challenged as fraudulent a presidential vote in which he claimed victory.
The EU, made up of 27 countries, has imposed sanctions on Minsk for violating human rights. Less than a year after the August 2020 elections, migrants from Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and Cameroon began showing up at Belarus’ land borders with the EU, trying to cross into member states Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.
“What we see in Minsk, this inhuman system of using refugees as tools to exert pressure on the European Union has not improved, but it has gotten worse in recent days,” said German EU Minister Haiko Maas, arriving to talk with his peers.
“We are going to tighten sanctions for individuals who are involved in this human trafficking and we will have to talk about the fact that severe economic sanctions are unavoidable …We will have to face the airlines as well.”
Immigrants from the Middle East and Africa had never used this immigration route to the wealthy European bloc.
Polish border guards have reported 5,100 illegal crossing attempts from Belarus so far in November, compared with 120 for the full year 2020. Comparative numbers have also increased in the two Baltic states.
“Today we are going to pass a new package of sanctions,” said top EU diplomat Josep Borrell, adding that they will target airlines and travel agencies involved in this “illegal migrant initiative.”
Belarus’ Foreign Ministry called accusations that Minsk engineered the migrant crisis on its borders with the European Union as “absurd”, according to the Russian state news agency RIA.
Lukashenko said Belarus is trying to convince immigrants to return home. “But no one wants to go back,” he said, according to Belarusian state news agency Belta. Minsk will retaliate against any new EU sanctions, he said.
Maas called on Lukashenko’s most powerful ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, to pressure Minsk to stop risking people’s lives in a tug of war with the EU.
At least eight people died along the 200km land border between Poland and Belarus, including from cold and exhaustion.
Reference: CNN Brasil