Belarus’s ‘Hybrid War’: EU Slams Lukashenko’s Regime for ‘Weaponizing’ Illegal Migration

Written by | Saturday, August 7th, 2021

Poland accused Belarus of sending a growing number of migrants over the border in retaliation for Warsaw’s decision this week to give refuge to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics. Minsk was literally “waging a hybrid war with the European Union with the help of illegal immigrants,” deputy interior minister, Maciej Wasik, said on Thursday (5 August). In recent weeks, Poland’s neighbour and fellow EU member state Lithuania has reported a surge in illegal border crossings from Belarus and said Minsk was flying in migrants from abroad and dispatching them into the EU. Poland too has a border with Belarus. “There are both young men and women with children. Belarus is using these immigrants as a living weapon,” Wasik said in an interview with Polish media. “In recent days we have seen an increase (in migrants). We treat it as a reaction to the granting of asylum to the Belarusian sprinter.”
Officials in the Belarusian government could not immediately be reached for comment. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko earlier accused Poland and Lithuania of fuelling the migrant issue on the border, saying Lithuania wanted to drive migrants into Belarusian territory by force. Belarus in May decided to let migrants enter Lithuania in retaliation for EU sanctions meted out after Minsk forced a Ryanair flight to land on its soil and arrested a dissident blogger who was on board. Lukashenko at the time said Belarus would not become a “holding site” for migrants from Africa and the Middle East. The Polish Border Guard said that while 122 illegal migrants were detained along the frontier with Belarus in the whole of last year, 242 migrants were intercepted only during last month.
The EU diplomatic service has summoned the Belarusian envoy in Brussels and held talks with the Iraqi government over the issue of illegal migration to the bloc. Brussels has demanded an end to the “instrumentalisation” of migrants crossing into Lithuania, a spokeswoman said on Thursday (5 August). The EU believes that the Belarusian strongman has deliberately encouraged an influx of new unauthorized arrivals in retaliation for sanctions against his regime. “These practices must stop and Belarus must respect its international commitment in combating irregular migration and human trafficking and migrant smuggling.” Lithuanian border guards have begun to push back new arrivals at their border with Belarus, and Brussels has urged Iraq — the source of many of the would-be refugees — to halt flights to Minsk. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned last month that the bloc is drawing up stronger sanctions to add to those already targeting Lukashenko and his allies.

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