Germany accuses Belarus of organising another migrant crisis
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Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have all seen a surge in the number of migrants desperately trying to cross into their countries illegally from Belarus in recent months, with many dying as temperatures plummet. The situation began spiralling out of control on Monday as crowds tried to cut a barbed-wire border fence to flee Belarus, with claims the Belarusian government is using desperate migrants as political pawns.
Poland, the European Union and Nato say Belarus is orchestrating the problem, a claim denied by its disputed leader, Alexander Lukashenko.
Monday saw Polish police blocking hundreds of people who had been escorted to the border by Belarusian authorities.
And the situation appears to be worsening, with Poland warning of a possible “armed” escalation imminent.
Deputy Polish foreign minister, Piotr Wawrzyk, said on Tuesday: “Belarus wants to cause a major incident, preferably with shots fired and casualties.”
Germany called on the “whole of the democratic world” to help the situation and support orderly immigration to Europe, its interior minister said.
The Belarus defence ministry rejected the Polish statements as unfounded and unsubstantiated and accused Warsaw of violating agreements by moving thousands of troops to the border.
Horst Seehofer accused Belarus and Russia of exploiting refugees and migrants in an attempt to destabilise the west, and said EU countries must stand together in the face of a “hybrid threat” posed by “politically organised migration”.
The EU has said Mr Lukashenko is seeking revenge for Europe’s criticism of his brutal crackdown on domestic opposition and resultant sanctions.
The bloc believes Belarus might be trying to provoke a fresh refugee crisis.
According to reports, Belarus has been offering special visas allowing migrants to fly into the country from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, before sending them without proper resources to the borders.
Activists say the migrants – many of them young men but also women and children – are being used as pawns in a political game, while being subjected to inhumane conditions.
As they are summarily expelled from Poland and Belarus refuses to allow them back in, people are finding themselves stranded and freezing in Poland’s forests. Several have died of hypothermia.
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Mr Seehofer said: “Lukashenko is using people’s fates with the support of Russian president Vladimir Putin to destabilise the west.
“Poland or Germany can’t handle this alone. We must help the Polish government secure their external border.
This would actually be the task of the European Commission. I’m now appealing to them to take action.”
In response to the crisis, Lithuania has also moved troops to its border with Belarus to prepare for a possible influx of migrants.
And the US urged Mr Lukashenko to “immediately halt [his] campaign of orchestrating and coercing” the illegal flow of migrants.
But on Tuesday, a Polish government spokesman said a further 3,000 to 4,000 migrants were gathering near the border.
The spokesman said: “We expect that there may be an escalation of this type of action on the Polish border in the near future, which will be of an armed nature”.
Poland is enforcing a state of emergency in the region complete with a media blackout.
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