Belarus raises pressure on Germany to take in stranded migrants with ominous warning

President Alexander Lukashenko insists he does not want confrontation with Poland

Belarus on Monday raised the pressure on Germany to open its doors to migrants stranded at the EU’s troubled eastern border.

President Alexander Lukashenko said Belarus “must demand that the Germans take them” – telling Europe’s richest country to take care of 2,000 migrants.

But he insisted he did not want a confrontation with neighbouring Poland, warning “a war is unavoidable if we take things too far”.

Germany and Poland have rejected calls to rescue people from a border stand-off, which they believe was manufactured by Mr Lukashenko.

At least 11 people are thought to have died since the crisis erupted over the summer, with thousands of migrants trying to cross from Belarus into Poland and thereby enter the EU.

One of them, a Yemeni migrant who died of cold and fatigue on the border, was buried on a nearby hillside on Sunday as fears mount for others still trapped.

Mustafa Mohammed Murshid al-Raymi, 37, was laid to rest by members of Poland’s small Muslim community, witnessed by his brother and Yemen’s ambassador in Warsaw.

Local Muslims have taken it upon themselves to organise proper burials for those who have died, such as Mr al-Raymi, and collect food and clothing donations for the migrants.

“It's an expression of our respect for and solidarity with this man who died in horrible conditions,” Ryszard Mozdabaiev, who attended the burial, told AFP.

Humanitarian organisations say they are being denied access to other migrants as winter sets in at the border.

“Many people currently lack food or water,” said the International Rescue Committee. “At least 11 people have died. Many more remain at risk.”

The West accuses Minsk of engineering the border crisis to retaliate against sanctions, while Poland sees the portrayal of suffering migrants as Belarusian propaganda.

Mr Lukashenko, who denies orchestrating the crisis, has sought to shift the blame by telling the EU it should take in 2,000 of the migrants.

“We will handle these migrants on our own if Germany does not take them,” he was quoted as saying by state media. “What else is left for us to do? We have no choice. But we must demand that the Germans take them.”

Mr Lukashenko said he wanted answers from the EU on accepting migrants – but insisted he was not trying to irritate Poland.

“We are not barbarians, we don't want confrontation. We don't need it. Because we understand that a war is unavoidable if we take things too far,” he said.

Some migrants were moved away from border camps last week and put up in a warehouse on the Belarusian side of the fence.

Yemen's Foreign Ministry said it was working on bringing back its citizens from the border, including eight on the Belarusian side and nine in Poland. The EU has leant on other countries, such as Iraq, to cut off the air route to Belarus.

But Poland said the crisis was not over. It said on Monday that it had stopped 150 “aggressive foreigners”, urged on by Belarus, from entering the EU.

It accused Belarus of seeking to exploit the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan to coax more migrants into the EU.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki claimed Belarus and its ally Russia had made diplomatic contact with Afghanistan and neighbouring Uzbekistan.

“Most likely, it will be an attempt to use the crisis in Afghanistan as another scenario of the migration crisis,” he said.

Poland has threatened to cut a train link between the two countries if the situation does not improve. Mr Lukashenko was quoted as saying that threat could backfire.

Rail traffic could be diverted to run through a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in such a scenario, he said.

Mr Morawiecki called for more support for Poland and its neighbours, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, to fend off the crisis.

“This is the greatest attempt to destabilise Europe in 30 years,” he said. “Poland will not yield to blackmail and will do everything to defend the EU’s borders.”

Updated: November 22nd 2021, 2:03 PM
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS