EU to slap new sanctions on Belarus as migrant crisis escalates

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EU to slap new sanctions on Belarus as migrant crisis escalates

The European Union agreed to ramp up pressure on Belarus Monday amid the escalating migrant crisis on the Polish and Lithuanian borders — discussing possible sanctions on airlines accused of helping the Belarusian president to wage a “hybrid attack” against the bloc.

EU foreign ministers have accused Alexander Lukashenko of funneling migrants — mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan — towards the bloc as revenge for earlier sanctions over a crackdown on election protests last year.

Anti-government demonstrations erupted in August 2020 after Lukashenko claimed a landslide win in an election that was widely condemned as rigged by the West.

Protesters faced violent persecution by Belarusian authorities, with more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands brutally beaten by police, according to the Associated Press.

As a result, the 27-nation EU has imposed sanctions on Minsk for violating human rights.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a meeting with the working group on finalizing the draft of the new Constitution of Belarus
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a meeting with the working group on finalizing the draft of the new constitution.
Nikolay Petrov/BelTA Pool Photo via AP
Migrants warm themselves near a fire as they gather at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno.
Migrants warm themselves near a fire as they gather at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno.
Oksana Manchuk/BelTA pool photo via AP

But now, less than a year after the election, thousands of migrants started appearing on Belarus’ borders with the EU, trying to cross into member states Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

“What we see in Minsk, this inhumane system of using refugees as tools to exert pressure on the European Union, has not improved but has got worse over the last days,” German EU Minister Haiko Maas said Monday.

“We will toughen sanctions on individuals who are involved in this human trafficking, and we will have to talk about the fact that severe economic sanctions are inevitable … We will have to tackle the airlines, too.”

Migrants from the Middle East gather at the checkpoint "Kuznitsa" at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, on November 15, 2021.
Migrants from the Middle East gather at the checkpoint “Kuznitsa” at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, on November 15, 2021.
Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA photo via AP
Migrants make their way to the checkpoint "Kuznitsa" at the Belarus-Poland border.
Migrants make their way to the checkpoint “Kuznitsa” at the Belarus-Poland border.
Oksana Manchuk/BelTA pool photo via AP

Monday’s unanimous political agreement among EU countries must be worked out in detail before specific new sanctions come into force, but top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said they intend to target airlines and travel agencies involved in “this illegal push of migrants.”

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Minsk airport should be made a “no-fly zone.”

Belarus flag carrier Belavia is among the airlines likely to be hit, and Maas warned other companies to follow the example of Turkish Airlines by restricting flights to the Belarus capital.

European Union foreign ministers are expected on November 15, 2021 to decide to expand sanctions against Belarus.
European Union foreign ministers are expected on November 15, 2021, to decide to expand sanctions against Belarus.
Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA photo via AP

So far this month, Polish border guards have reported 5,100 attempted irregular crossings from Belarus, compared to 120 in all of 2020. Comparative numbers also jumped in the two Baltic states.

On Monday, Polish authorities said Belarusian services had led a large group to a border crossing with Poland and made them believe they would be transported by bus to Germany.

Polish police say they are broadcasting messages across the border telling the migrants that “they have been deceived.”

The new sanctions against Belarus will include airlines, travel agents and individuals alleged to be helping to lure migrants to Europe as part of a "hybrid attack" against the bloc by President Alexander Lukashenko.
The new sanctions against Belarus will include airlines, travel agents and individuals alleged to be helping to lure migrants to Europe as part of a “hybrid attack” against the bloc by President Alexander Lukashenko.
Andreas Arnold/picture alliance via Getty Images
Migrants at the Belarus-Poland border on November 15,2021.
Migrants at the Belarus-Poland border on November 15,2021.
Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA photo via AP

At least nine people have died along the 125-mile-long border between Poland and Belarus, including from cold and exhaustion, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry denounced as “absurd” Western accusations that Minsk was driving the crisis that has left up to 4,000 people stranded on its border with Poland.

Lukashenko insisted that Belarus was trying to persuade migrants to leave, “but nobody wants to go back,” adding that Minsk would retaliate against any new EU sanctions, according to Belarus’ state news agency Belta.

Migrants collect their belongings before leaving a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region and heading towards the Polish Kuznica border.
Migrants collect their belongings before leaving a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region and heading towards the Polish Kuznica border.
LEONID SHCHEGLOV/BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

When asked whether more sanctions might only make things worse, Germany’s Maas said: “I don’t have the impression that Belarus behaves constructively without sanctions. That wasn’t the case in the past.”

“We are far from the end of the spiral of sanctions,” he added.

On Sunday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Jakub Morawiecki said NATO must take “concrete steps” to resolve the migrant crisis along the Belarus border, according to Reuters.

Polish servicemen guard an area near the barbed wire fence where migrants gather at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus.
Polish servicemen guard an area near the barbed wire fence where migrants gather at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus.
Oksana Manchuk/BelTA pool photo via AP

A day before, a group of about 50 migrants broke through defenses on the border and entered Poland near the village of Starzyna, police said. Border guards told PAP they were all caught.

With Post wires

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