Migrants camp overnight at Polish border after tense day
WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Polish riot police and razor wire on Tuesday clashed with migrants, including families with young children, who were camping just across the border in Belarus in the midst of ‘a tense stalemate on the eastern border of the European Union.
Polish authorities reported that the situation at the border was calm overnight and earlier on Tuesday, but authorities said they were preparing for any possibility. The Polish Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that a large group of Belarusian forces were heading towards the migrant camp.
However, there was no way to independently verify what was going on. Journalists have a limited capacity to operate in Belarus, and the state of emergency in Poland has prevented journalists and others from entering the border area.
A day earlier, tensions erupted as a large group of migrants sought to enter Poland illegally, according to video footage posted on social media by Polish authorities.
Polish forces pushed them back, then the migrants settled in a camp overnight, with tents and campfires along the border.
Monday’s siege intensified a crisis along the border that had been simmering for months, in which the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko encouraged migrants to enter the EU illegally.
The EU responded on Tuesday by tightening visa rules for Belarusian officials over what it calls a “hybrid attack” on the 27-country bloc.
EU headquarters said it was “partially suspending” an agreement it has with Belarus that relaxes visa rules.
This decision hits Belarusian government officials, legislators, diplomats and key court officials. This increases travel red tape and forces them to provide additional documents and pay more for visas.
In videos posted on Twitter, tents and campfire can be seen, in temperatures near freezing point, as Polish police broadcast an announcement warning migrants that crossing the Polish border is only allowed at official border posts, where visas are required.
But by Tuesday morning, the closest crossing point, in Kuznica, in the northeast of the country, was closed.
The situation marks an escalation in months of migratory pressure against Lithuania and Poland, and to a lesser extent Latvia, the three EU states on the eastern border of the bloc with Belarus. The EU says Belarus is stepping up the pressure, intending to destabilize the bloc in retaliation for Western sanctions.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, accompanied by Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak, went to the border on Tuesday morning to meet with border guards and other security officials. Morawiecki congratulated them, also on behalf of the EU, for their “effective defense of our border”.
“We don’t know what else the Lukashenko regime will offer – this is the reality,” Morawiecki said.
Meanwhile, the Lithuanian government on Tuesday asked parliament to declare a state of emergency along the border with Belarus for one month from midnight.
The state of emergency is said to be in place along the border section and five kilometers (three miles) inland, as well as at migrant accommodation centers in Vilnius and elsewhere in the country.
The measure would include restricting the right of irregular migrants hosted in Lithuania to communicate in writing or by telephone, except to contact the country’s authorities.
Migrants are mostly people from the Middle East and Africa who have taken advantage of the opening of a new migratory route to enter Europe, often seeking to reach family members who have already immigrated to Germany or in other Western European countries.
Poland has received strong signals of support and solidarity from the EU and EU Member States and the US as it deals with its border crisis.
Outgoing German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Tuesday that all EU countries “must stick together because Lukashenko is using the plight of the people with the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin to destabilize the West “. He called on the European Commission to support Poland in securing the border.
“The Poles perform a very important service for the whole of Europe,” he said.
So far, the ruling nationalists in Poland have refused help from Frontex, the EU’s border agency.
Many migrants travel to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on tourist visas, and from there travel by taxi to the border with Poland. The EU seeks to put pressure on airlines not to facilitate illegal migration.
Although direct flights between Iraq and Minsk were suspended in August, migrants traveled to Belarus via commercial and charter flights from Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and even Russia, according to recent reports. reports on internal EU migration consulted by the Associated Press.
On social networks, smugglers announced the transport from Belarus to Germany by car. The drivers smuggling people across the German-Polish border came mainly from non-EU countries, according to reports, although there are also EU nationals involved. Many migrants ended up in Germany. But some continued their journey to Finland by ferry via Sweden, according to a report.
Geir Moulson in Berlin, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Renata Brito in Barcelona, Spain, contributed.