Belarus tells EU to open humanitarian corridor for migrants as camps are cleared

Proposal leads to confusion after Minsk claims Germany agreed to put it to EU

A deserted migrant camp near the Bruzgi-Kuznica checkpoint on the Belarusian-Polish border. Reuters
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Belarus is calling on the EU to take care of 2,000 of the people stranded at the Polish border, where some migrants started leaving their makeshift camps on Thursday.

President Alexander Lukashenko made the proposal for a humanitarian corridor in a call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the stand-off, his office said.

The call led to confusion after Minsk claimed that Mrs Merkel had agreed to discuss the idea with her fellow EU leaders, who support Poland in its dispute with Belarus.

“Germany did not agree to this," a government source said. "It’s a European problem on which Germany is not acting alone.”

The call between the German and Belarusian leaders was their second in a week, and came after Russian President Vladimir Putin urged EU leaders to deal with Minsk directly.

The discussions did not please Poland, which weighed in on Thursday to caution against holding talks with Mr Lukashenko at all.

“We have to be aware of the fact that any direct talks with Lukashenko suit him because they legitimise his regime,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

He said Poland would oppose any humanitarian corridor because it could encourage more people to enter the EU illegally through its eastern border.

French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the border crisis with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Mr Morawiecki. He said Europe had to keep up pressure on Belarus.

Belarus's proposal

Belarus said there were about 7,000 refugees on its territory, migrants the West suspects Belarus has ferried to the border to undermine the EU.

Mr Lukashenko, who denies this, told Mrs Merkel that Belarus could arrange for 5,000 of them to return home “to the extent possible and provided refugees agree to it”.

State media said two camps near the Polish border were empty on Thursday after some Iraqi migrants were flown back to Baghdad and Erbil.

Poland confirmed that some people had left the camps but said Belarus had “not withdrawn from the plan to destabilise Poland”.

“The coming days will still be demanding for Polish soldiers and officers,” said government spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn, who claimed Polish guards had been attacked with stones and blinded with lasers.

“Poland is still struggling with a hybrid warfare operation conducted against the whole European Union,” he said.

“This action is being directed by Belarusian services, supported by Russia from the very beginning.”

Russia, which is Belarus’s main political and military backer, in turn blamed the West for escalating tension on the border.

Mr Putin echoed criticism expressed by Belarus and some humanitarian groups about how Polish border guards have treated the migrants.

“One cannot help but see that western countries are using the migration crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border as a new reason for tension in the region,” he said.

Mr Putin suggested Mr Lukashenko should start a dialogue with the Belarusian opposition. Many of his leader’s critics were arrested or fled the country after a disputed election last year.

Warsaw is calling for a further tightening of the sanctions imposed since then against Belarus. Minsk is suspected of trying to retaliate against the sanctions by ferrying migrants to the border.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, on a visit to Poland, said he would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the country.

A statement by G7 foreign ministers issued on Thursday called on Belarus to “cease immediately its aggressive and exploitative campaign”.

“The actions of the Belarusian regime are an attempt to deflect attention from its ongoing disregard for international law, fundamental freedoms and human rights, including those of its own people,” the ministers said.

Updated: November 19, 2021, 1:39 AM