Nato alarmed by Minsk’s use of migrants as pawns in clash on Belarus-Poland border

The gathering along the EU’s eastern frontier indicates a crisis that has rumbled for months is getting worse

Nato has slammed as “unacceptable” what it said was Belarus’s tactical use of migration to put pressure on the EU.

It said it was worried about “escalation” on the border with Poland, where thousands of migrants have massed.

An alliance official called the Belarusian regime’s ploy “a hybrid tactic”, meaning a combined military-political operation, and said: “Nato stands ready to further assist our allies, and maintain safety and security in the region”.

Warsaw has accused Minsk of trying to spark a major confrontation along the Poland-Belarus border and said it expects groups of several hundred migrants each to attempt the crossing imminently.

“We expect that in the coming hours, attacks on our border will be renewed by groups of several hundred people,” said Pawel Soloch, the head of Poland’s National Security Bureau.

Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller said 3,000 to 4,000 migrants were near the border, and more than 10,000 others in Belarus were ready to try and cross into Poland.

Poland said it had deployed 12,000 extra soldiers, border guards and police. Neighbouring Lithuania is considering imposing a state of emergency over its border with Belarus.

The EU, to which Poland and Lithuania belong, accuses Belarus of encouraging migrants from the Middle East and Africa to cross the bloc’s eastern frontier through Belarus in retaliation for western sanctions on the President Alexander Lukashenko’s government over human rights abuses.

As migrants walked towards the Polish border on Monday, some tried to breach the razor fence using spades and other tools.

A video distributed by Polish authorities showed one man cutting part of the fence and another attacking it with a spade, while a Polish soldier sprayed an unidentified substance from a can.

In an earlier video, shared by the Belarusian blogging service Nexta, migrants carrying rucksacks and wearing winter clothing were seen walking by the side of a main road.

Nato criticised what it called the tactical use of migrants to put pressure on the EU.

“We are concerned by the recent escalation at the border between Poland and Belarus,” a Nato official said.

“We call on Belarus to abide by international law. We have seen a surge of migrants trying to enter Allied territory via Belarus.”

Poland’s interior ministry said it had rebuffed an attempt at illegal entry and that the situation was under control.

The gathering of people at the border appears to signal an escalation of a crisis that has being going on for months.

The arrival of a large number of people at the border is viewed as a threat by Poland and other European countries, including Germany, the main destination of many of the migrants.

Steffen Seibert, spokesman for departing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said “the Belarusian regime is acting as a human trafficker”.

“It instrumentalises refugees and migrants in a way that’s politically and from a humanitarian point of view condemnable. And Europe will make a united stand against this continuous hybrid attack,” he said.

The migrants at the border are seeking to “exercise their right to apply for refugee status in the EU”, said Anton Bychkovsky, spokesman for Belarus’ State Border Guard Committee.

He said they “are not a security threat” and “are not behaving aggressively”.

Updated: November 9th 2021, 7:49 AM
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