Brussels (Brussels Morning) The European Commission is urging EU countries to approve extended sanctions against Belarus over the country’s handling of migrants. The EU executive will resort to blacklisting third country airlines believed to be active in human trafficking.
With the number of stranded migrants growing exponentially in Belarus, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the “instrumentalisation of migrants” for political ends is “unacceptable”.
“The Belarusian authorities must understand that pressuring the EU in this way through a cynical instrumentalisation of migrants will not help them succeed in their purposes”, the Commission’s chief declared.
Von der Leyen discussed the migrant crisis with representatives from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, hoping to find backing for the three EU countries in addressing the migrant crisis in Belarus. The EU executive indicated her readiness to support their efforts to deal with the emergency situation.
Meantime, the leader of democratic Belarus, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, urged allies not to let “the dictator escalate violence”, a reference to the country’s controversial President Alexander Lukashenko.
“I had an emergency call with the Polish President Andrzej Duda to discuss the situation on the Belarus-EU border and possible solutions to it. Our positions are the same: it’s a deliberate escalation by the regime and the EU should respond strongly”, Tsikhanouskaya stated on social media yesterday.
Many migrants seeking entry into Poland are desperately fleeing war and poverty-wracked countries in the Middle East.
With the path behind them blocked by Belarus, migrants remain trapped between Poland and Belarus, in some instances struggling for their lives in exposed terrain and freezing conditions. At least eight people have died due to exposure, a growing concern as winter approaches and more migrants are expected to arrive.
“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”, Polish government spokesperson Piotr Muller warned, noting that some 3,000-to-4,000 migrants are currently gathered near the border.
Neighbouring Germany has called for EU members to “take action” to deal with the deepening crisis.
“Poland or Germany can’t handle this alone”, caretaker Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told Bild.
Countries of origin
The Commission is anticipating ways to deal with a humanitarian crisis, having announced it will be traveling to the migrants’ main countries of origin and of transit to ensure their readiness to prevent their own nationals from falling into the trap set by the Belarusian authorities.
“We will explore with the UN and its specialised agencies how to prevent a humanitarian crisis from unfolding and to ensure that migrants can be safely returned to their country of origin, with the support of their national authorities”, the Commission stated.