EU to ‘toughen sanctions’ against Belarus

A situation still tense on the border between Poland and Belarus … And migrants, including many children, who sleep in freezing cold. Belarus said on Monday that it was working to get migrants camping on the border with Poland “home”. Assurances coming as the European Union will tighten sanctions against Minsk because of this migration crisis.

Several thousand people, many of them children, often from Iraqi Kurdistan, spent another night outside in freezing temperatures, warming themselves in tents or in front of wood fires, according to images released by state media. Belarus.

Men, women and children crowded in front of barbed wire

They also released new photos and videos of a crowd of would-be emigrants to the EU piling up at the border, separated by barbed wire from helmeted, masked and deployed Polish law enforcement agencies. .

The heads of diplomacy of the countries of the European Union are meeting in Brussels to adopt punitive measures, believing that Minsk orchestrated the situation in response to a previous wave of sanctions decided after the repression of the opposition in this country.

The EU has “modified its sanctions regime in order to be able to respond to the instrumentalization of human beings to which the Belarusian regime engages”, according to a statement released at a meeting of the 27 foreign ministers in Brussels .

“We are going to tighten the sanctions further,” said German foreign minister Heiko Maas. “Today we will approve a new package of sanctions against Belarusians responsible for what is happening.”

The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell, who spoke Sunday with the Belarusian Minister for Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei, however estimated that “things are coming back under control” concerning the influx of refugees.

What sanctions?

“I told the Belarusian minister that the situation was totally unacceptable, that humanitarian aid had to be provided and that we had to think about how to solve the problem, starting by stopping the (migratory) flow, stopping the flights. It’s almost done, ”he explained on Monday.

Josep Borrell recalled that the EU was in contact with the countries of origin and transit of these migrants. He explained that the Europeans would notably be able to punish airlines, travel agencies, and “all those involved in the illegal delivery of migrants to our borders”.

European sanctions against Belarusian regime officials currently target 166 people, including President Alexander Lukashenko. They consist of an asset freeze and a ban on entry into the EU.

The EU also ended economic sanctions at the end of June, which hit key potash, oil and tobacco sectors. It also banned Belarusian companies from accessing its airspace and airports.

Convince people to return home

Belarusian President Alexander Loukachenko has assured that he does not want a conflict at his border and to work for the return of migrants “to their homes”. “We are ready (…) to put them all on planes that bring them home,” he said, according to the Belta state agency. “Active work is underway to convince these people.”

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“These people, it must be said, are stubborn,” he added. “They don’t want to go home. It is clear that they no longer have a place to return, no more home, and have nothing to feed their children there ”.

The words of the unpredictable Alexander Lukashenko did not seem to convince Europeans. “I have no reason to believe that what he is saying is true,” said Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.

The Europeans accuse Minsk of having organized since the summer of migratory movements from the Middle East to the Polish and Lithuanian borders in revenge for Western sanctions.

Diplomatic showdown

“We have never done that and we do not intend to do it”, denied this Monday Alexander Lukashenko, before warning the EU: “They want to scare with sanctions, they think that I’m kidding but nothing like that, we are going to defend ourselves, ”he said, echoing his Foreign Minister who had warned that any punitive measure would prove to be“ counterproductive ”.

The Belarusian president had previously said he was ready to cut off the transit of Russian gas to Europe via his country, but Moscow, overlord of Minsk, quickly downplayed the scope of the threat. President Vladimir Poutine, however, felt that the Europeans had to resume dialogue with the Belarusians.

Russia has also rejected accusations by Warsaw, which sees Moscow as the sponsor of the migration crisis, amid growing Russian-Western tensions.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov again deemed “wrong” to blame all the responsibility for the crisis on Minsk and regretted that the EU “ignores European ideals of humanism” by failing to help migrants stranded outside in the cold.

The Polish border guards said Monday morning to have thus pushed back a group of about sixty “aggressive” migrants, some “throwing stones”. Then a new crowd of hundreds of migrants gathered at a closed border crossing between Poland and Belarus, facing rows of Polish police and soldiers, according to videos posted by Polish border guards and the Polish military.

“More and more groups of migrants are being brought to the Kuznica border crossing by Belarusian forces,” the Polish defense ministry said on Twitter.

Flight ban from Dubai

At the same time, the Belarusian airline Belavia announced on Sunday that Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Yemenis were now banned from flying from Dubai to Belarus, on “decision of the competent authorities of the United Arab Emirates”. Turkey did the same last week.

For its part, the Iraqi government announced the organization on Thursday of a first repatriation flight for Iraqi migrants stranded on the border between Belarus and Poland “on a voluntary basis”.

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