As a dispute between the EU and Belarus rages, thousands of people remain stranded on both sides of the Belarus-Poland border. They are mostly from conflict-torn regions of the Middle East like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, hoping of crossing into the EU via Poland.
Brussels officials have accused Mink of orchestrating a scheme to entice migrants with the false promise of easy entry to the bloc.
Calling the accusations “absurd”, Belarus’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko’s government has repeatedly denied it is sending migrants over the border in revenge for existing Western sanctions that were imposed in June.
EU-Belarus relations have also been severely strained since Lukashenko declared victory in a presidential election in August 2020 which gave him a sixth term.
The results of the election have been disputed by the opposition and many Western nations and sparked mass anti-government protests.
On Monday (Nov. 15) , the Belarusian president spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the migration crisis by phone. It’s the first conversation Lukashenko has held with a Western leader since last year’s election.
At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a close ally of Lukashenko, spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron for nearly two hours. The two leaders agreed that tensions on the Poland-Belarus border where refugees and asylum seekers have been massing had to be de-escalated, Macron’s office said.
Meanwhile, Polish security forces have stepped up their presence at the fence separating the countries, deploying 15,000 soldiers, border guards and riot police and using chemical spray to deter the crowd of estimated 3,000 to 4,000 migrants who have set up makeshift camps.
“The migrants attacked our soldiers and officers with stones and are trying to destroy the fence and get to Poland. Our services used tear gas to quell the migrants’ aggression,” Poland’s defence ministry tweeted on Tuesday (Nov. 16).
Russia condemned Poland’s use of tear gas and water cannons against the migrants, calling it “absolutely unacceptable”.
The situation shows no signs of ending or de-escalating any time soon.
There have been more than 5,000 attempts by migrants to cross the border into Poland from Belarus so far this month, compared to just 88 in the whole of last year, the Polish border agency says.
Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said his country intends to start building a permanent wall on the Belarusian border in December.
Lukashenko and Merkel held another telephone conversation on Wednesday (Nov. 17). The two leaders agreed that the problem will be addressed at the level of Belarus and the EU, and that the two sides will designate officials who will immediately enter into negotiations.
On Thursday (Nov. 18) makeshift camps near the Belarusian border checkpoint Bruzgi at the Belarusian-Polish border were fully vacated. All the refugees have moved to a nearby logistics hub, BelTA learned from the Telegram channel of the State Border Committee of Belarus.
While some have agreed to go home, most still insist on being allowed to continue their journey west, primarily to Germany, a spokeswoman for Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday.
As much as 8 tons of food is handed out to refugees at the Belarusian-Polish border every day.
With reporting by Al Jazeera, BBC, DW, BelTA