The US, Canada and EU ramped up pressure on Thursday on the regime of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, expanding sanctions on officials and other entities for reportedly causing a migration crisis in Europe for political gain.
“Today's actions demonstrate our unwavering determination to act in the face of a brutal regime that increasingly represses Belarusians, undermines the peace and security of Europe, and continues to abuse people seeking only to live in freedom,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The group of allies has continued to increase sanctions on Belarus since Mr Lukashenko began to crack down on protests over his disputed 2020 re-election.
The EU, Canada and the US claim Belarus responded to the mounting sanctions by encouraging thousands of migrants —— mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis —— to fly to Minsk and then head to the border with the EU.
“We again demand that the Lukashenko regime immediately and completely halt its orchestrating of irregular migration across its borders with the EU. Those in Belarus or in third countries who facilitate illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders should know this comes at a substantial cost,” read a joint statement released by the US Department of State.
The Belarus state airline Belavia, tour operators and hotels that have collaborated with the government in luring thousands of Middle Eastern migrants to the Polish and Lithuanian borders have also been sanctioned.
The sanctions statement also called for the release of some 900 political prisoners, for the immediate implementation of the Moscow and Vienna Mechanisms of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“The regime should promptly enter into comprehensive and genuine political dialogue with representatives of the democratic opposition and civil society, facilitated by the OSCE, leading to new free and fair presidential elections under international observation,” the US statement said.
In its own statement, the EU demanded the Lukashenko regime stop its campaign of human trafficking.
“The European Union will not tolerate the orchestrated and politically motivated instrumentalisation of human beings by the Lukashenko regime,” the EU said in a statement.
Separately, Britain labelled several journalists as “propagandists” for the Lukashenko government and also blacklisted Belaruskali, one of the world's leading producers of potash fertilisers.
“These sanctions continue to target important sources of revenue to the Lukashenko regime and place severe restrictions on those responsible for some of the worst anti-democratic acts in Belarus,” said UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Washington said its sanctions are focused on “migrant-smuggling and victimisation of migrants".
Agencies contributed to this report