Belarus migrant surge 'has failed' to undermine EU

Brussels says crisis has brought solidarity despite suspected ploy by regime in Minsk

Migrants gather during snowfall at the warehouse where some are staying on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland. Reuters
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The migrant crisis in Belarus has failed to undermine the European Union despite the suspected intentions of the regime in Minsk, the president of the European Commission has said.

Ursula von der Leyen said it had created solidarity between the EU and the three countries on the front line, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Amid signs of the crisis easing, she said international agencies were working on taking the migrants back to their home countries.

Poland, which has continued to report attempted crossings of its border, said it was willing to help finance the return flights if the situation continued to ease.

Thousands were left stranded at the border after they were denied entry to the EU from Belarus, whose president Alexander Lukashenko is accused of engineering the flow of migrants to retaliate against EU sanctions.

People’s lives were put at risk after they were “lured to the Belarus border under false pretences,” Ms von der Leyen said on a visit to Lithuania on Sunday. At least 13 people are estimated to have died at the border.

The EU will treble funding to the three countries for improved border security, including through drones and electronic surveillance, she said.

“Lukashenko has failed in his bid to undermine EU unity and solidarity,” she said. “We are facing down his hybrid attack, all together.

“But we are also well advised to learn the lessons. To deflect away from our internal problems, our opponents do not shy away from waging hybrid attacks on us.”

The call for unity comes amid a long-running dispute between the EU and Poland over the rule of law. Warsaw has sought to use the crisis to demonstrate its importance to the bloc.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the migrants hoped to reach Germany and the Netherlands if they were not stopped by Polish guards.

Some were moved to a warehouse near the border, where the freezing conditions in tent camps led to humanitarian concerns.

Belarusian state media claimed the migrants were “cheered up” by a personal visit from Mr Lukashenko, who denies engineering the crisis.

But after Poland reported another 125 attempted crossings overnight, Mr Morawiecki said it was up to Belarus to reduce tension.

“If there is a good will on the side of Lukashenko, we will immediately take up this positive signal and will co-operate in financing the migrants going home,” he told German media.

Updated: November 28, 2021, 12:57 PM