Poland sees wave of migrants at border, accuses Belarus of ‘state terrorism’

Poland said on Wednesday it had seen an upsurge in attempts to cross its border and turned back hundreds of migrants to Belarus, accusing Minsk of “state terrorism” by sparking a new migration crisis in Europe.

Concern was growing for more than 2,000 migrants – mostly Kurds from the Middle East – who are trapped at the border, with the UN Security Council due to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday on the matter.

Western governments accuse Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko of luring them to his country and sending them through the European Union and NATO member Poland in retaliation for EU sanctions.

“What we are facing here, we must be clear, is a manifestation of state terrorism,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters in Warsaw during a press conference with the EU chief. visiting, Charles Michel.

Michel said that new sanctions against Belarus “are on the table”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said she expects “wider sanctions” early next week.

“It’s an authoritarian regime’s attempt to try to destabilize its Democratic neighbors. It won’t succeed,” she said after a meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington.

“Sirens and Helicopters”

Migrants have been trying to cross the border for months, but the crisis reached a new level when hundreds of people made a concerted effort on Monday and were turned away by Polish border guards.

They set up camp on the border, sheltering in tents and burning wood from local forests for warmth, blocked by Polish guards behind barbed wire.

In the Polish town of Sokolka near the border, AFP reporters saw patrols stopping vehicles to check migrants’ boots, as well as lines of military trucks and police vans coming and going from the border.

“Residents here are under constant stress,” Sokolka deputy mayor Piotr Romanowicz told AFP.

Izabela Korecki, 38, who was walking downtown with her daughters, said she felt “tense”.

“We hear sirens and helicopters all the time,” she said.

Journalists and charity workers have been banned from the immediate border area by Polish authorities under state of emergency rules.

“Desperate State”

Poland has sent 15,000 troops to the border along with police and border guards, accusing Belarus of using intimidation to force migrants across the border.

Belarus has in turn accused Poland of violating international norms by blocking migrants and violently pushing them back.

In an alley in Sokolka, Anna Chmielewska, a volunteer with the Ocalenie (Salut) Foundation, was sorting through a garage full of food and clothing donations for migrants.

“I can’t believe we live in times like these. We’re here, we’re ready to help but we can’t,” she said, explaining that volunteers could only help. migrants who managed to cross the border area.

Kyle McNally, a humanitarian affairs adviser at Doctors Without Borders who has met migrants on the Belarusian side of the border, called for “unhindered access” to help them.

“The people we’ve spoken to and seen are really in a desperate state and it’s getting worse day by day,” he said.

In a statement released on Wednesday evening, the EU also called on aid organizations to go “immediately and unhindered” to those in need.

Call on Russia to “use influence”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday called Lukashenko’s main backer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking him to “use his influence” with Minsk to stop what she called the “inhumane” instrumentalization of migrants.

But Belarus and Moscow have said the West would have to deal with migrant flows caused by its military interventions in the Middle East.

The Kremlin said it was “irresponsible” for Poland to blame Putin for the crisis, while Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said the EU was behind the crisis because she wanted a reason to impose new sanctions.

“The migrant crisis was caused by the EU itself and its border states with Belarus,” Makei said during a visit to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday.

Lavrov accused Western institutions of mounting an “anti-Belarusian campaign”, and said Russia and Belarus had “closely coordinated our approaches” to counter it.

Thousands of migrants have crossed or attempted to cross Belarus to eastern EU member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in recent months.

At least 10 migrants died on the Polish-Belarusian border, including seven on the Polish side of the border, according to Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.

Thelma J. Longworth