Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has admitted that it is ‘absolutely possible’ his forces have helped migrants cross the border into Poland – but remained defiant by saying he wouldn’t ‘even look into this’.
Warsaw said Belarus led an operation to help more than 500 migrants cross the border last night after Minsk officials were seen bringing people to the frontier.
Poland also accused the Belarusian agents of trying to blind the Polish soldiers with their lasers to distract them.
In response to the accusations, Lukashenko, speaking from the Minsk presidential palace, told the BBC: ‘I think that’s absolutely possible. We’re Slavs. We have hearts. Our troops know the migrants are going to Germany.’
‘Maybe someone helped them. I won’t even look into this.’
His comments came after Poland said they arrested 45 migrants overnight after another attempt to cross the border from Belarus during which guards were pelted with rocks and tear gas cannisters in an ‘aggressive’ move.
It is just the latest flashpoint in what have become day-and-night raids by migrants attempting to get into the EU, and comes as British engineers are deployed to help reinforce the border defences.
Ukraine, which borders both Belarus and Russia, said Friday it would build a 1,550 mile fence along its border with those neighbors to help fend off any illegal influx of migrants.
European ministers accuse dictator Alexander Lukashenko of manufacturing the crisis in an attempt to fracture the alliance, as revenge for sanctions on his regime.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko have hit back and said the EU needs to co-operate with Minsk.
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has admitted that it is ‘absolutely possible’ his forces have helped migrants cross the border into Poland – but remained defiant by saying he wouldn’t ‘even look into this’
Poland arrested 45 migrants overnight after another attempt to cross the border from Belarus during which guards were pelted with rocks and tear gas cannisters. Pictured: Migrants at the Polish/Belarusian border on Thursday
Belarus law enforcement officers guard migrants in a camp near Bruzgi-Kuznica checkpoint on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, Belarus, on Tuesday
Polish forces are seen at Poland-Belarus border as migrants moved to the closed area prepared by the Belarusian government within the border region on Thursday
Migrants at a camp near the Polish-Belarusian border crossing in Kuznica Bialostocka-Bruzgi, Belarus on Thursday
Lukashenko denied inviting thousands in to provoke a border crisis for Europe.
He told the BBC: ‘I told them I’m not going to detain migrants on the border, hold them at the border, and if they keep coming from now on I still won’t stop them, because they’re not coming to my country, they’re going to yours.
‘That’s what I meant. But I didn’t invite them here. And to be honest, I don’t want them to go through Belarus.’
The Polish Border Guard said there were 255 attempts to cross the border on Thursday, including two large groups consisting of 550 migrants, after makeshift camps near Bruzgi, Belarus were cleared.
Around 50 migrants got through a fence into Poland on Thursday, Anna Michalska, a spokeswoman for Poland’s Border Guard said. They included a family of five who said they wanted to stay and live in Poland, opening a procedure toward settlement. The others will have to return to Belarus, Michalska said.
Four Polish soldiers were injured after the migrants threw tear gas cannisters, logs and rocks at the them.
‘People in the largest group of around 500 threw rocks and someone also hurled tear gas at Polish officials. At the same time the Belarusian personnel were using lasers to blind them,’ Polish border guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said.
She added that Belarusian authorities were seen helping the migrants try to cross into Poland by bringing them to the border in trucks.
‘(The Belarusians) were bringing more migrants to the place where there was a forced attempt to cross. At the start there were 100 people, but then the Belarusian side brought more people in trucks. Then there were 500 people,’ Michalska said.
‘Forty-five people were detained and ordered to leave Poland. The Belarusian side is supplying the migrants with the tear gas, it’s obvious they didn’t bring it from their countries of origin,’ Michalska added.
She said four Polish soldiers had sustained injuries that did not require hospitalisation.
Belarusian state news agency Belta said 2,000 migrants who had been camped out in freezing conditions on the border spent the night in a nearby warehouse after clearing out of their camp.
Belta published photos of the migrants, including young children, lying on mats in the facility and wrote that ‘for several it was their first warm night’.
Belarusian state news agency Belta said 2,000 migrants who had been camped out in freezing conditions on the border spent the night in a nearby warehouse after clearing out of their camp
Belta published photos of the migrants, including young children, lying on mats in the facility and wrote that ‘for several it was their first warm night’
But despite this, Poland is still seeing repeated attempts by migrants to cross the Belarusian border.
‘There are still attempts by migrants to cross the border illegally,’ said Marek Pietrzak, spokesman of Poland’s Territorial Defence Force, which has soldiers on the border.
‘We can see how they are inspired and supervised by officers of the Belarusian border guard and other Belarusian uniformed services,’ he told TV Republika.
Since the beginning of the year, Poland’s border guard service says it has recorded over 34,000 attempted crossings from Belarus, including over 6,000 so far in November, nearly 17,300 in October, close to 7,700 in September and over 3,500 in August when the crisis began.
While there has been a decline in the number of attempted breaches over the last month, Michalska said the ‘latest attempts have become more aggressive.’
A Polish border guard arrests a migrant at a hospital in Bielsk Podlaski, Poland, on Friday
Syrian migrant Masour Nassar, 42, rests in a bed after crossing the Polish-Belarus border where he was found in the forest. He was taken to hospital by the Polish police who later arrested him
The migrants from the camp were taken on Thursday to a huge, crowded warehouse, and journalists were permitted to film them. Children ran about on Friday morning, and men played cards while one dandled a toddler on his lap.
In a hospital in Bielsk Podlaski, Poland, three migrants caught by Polish security after crossing the border were receiving treatment, including one, admitted without a passport and believed to be an Iraqi Kurd, who was in serious condition.
Mansour Nassar, 42, a father of six from Aleppo who had been living in Lebanon, said he had left some 12 days ago for Belarus and had been in the forest for 5 days.
‘The Belarussian army told us: ‘If you come back, we will kill you,’ he said from his hospital bed, in tears. ‘We drank from ponds. Our people are always oppressed.’
Ukraine on Friday warned migrants massed in neighbouring Belarus hoping to enter the EU not to cross onto its territory, saying they will be pushed back with any means necessary, including firearms.
Migrants are seen as they moved to the closed area prepared by the Belarusian government within the border region after they cleared camps at the Poland-Belarus border on Thursday
The West accuses Belarus of artificially creating a migrant crisis by bringing in would-be migrants and taking them to the border with the promise of an easy crossing into the EU.
Belarus has denied this and urged the EU to take them in.
The Kremlin today said Putin and Lukashenko held another phone call about the migrant crisis on Belarus’ border with Poland and stressed the importance of cooperation between Minsk and the EU.
Minsk said Thursday that there were a total of around 7,000 migrants in the ex-Soviet country.
It said that it would take responsibility for sending around 5,000 of those migrants home and claimed that the EU would create a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to Germany for around 2,000.
But Germany swiftly shot down that claim, saying it was not true that it would take in 2,000 migrants.
Meanwhile hundreds of Iraqis who had failed to cross into the EU from Belarus returned home on Thursday on the first repatriation flight organised by Baghdad.
An Iraqi Airways plane brought 431 people home.
Ukraine warned migrants massed in neighbouring Belarus not to cross onto its territory, saying they will be pushed back with any means necessary, including firearms.
Ukraine, which borders both Belarus and Poland, said it would build a 1,550 mile fence along its border with those neighbours to help fend off any illegal influx of migrants.
The country fears that the migrants might seek to enter its territory in order to then reach EU countries that it borders.
‘In the event of threats to the life and health of border guards and law enforcement officers, we will use all the means of protection provided by law, including firearms,’ said Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky.
Law enforcement officers stand guard as migrants queue to receive food at a transport and logistics centre near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, Belarus, on Friday
Funds should be allocated next year for the building of the fence that will cost an estimated 17 billion hryvnas (£475 million), Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Denys Monastyrskiy said.
“Building a fence, a net and barbed wire, with a total coverage by surveillance and alarm systems, along the entire border…is the most rational decision,” Monastyrskiy said, speaking in the Ukrainian parliament.
Ukrainian authorities also plan to dig out a 4-meter (13 feet) wide and 2-meter (6.5 feet) deep ditch on the open parts of the country’s border with Russia and Belarus.
The country’s authorities plan to conduct military exercises in the next two weeks to prepare for attempts by migrants to illegally cross into it.
“Our key goal is to stop and contain a possible mass influx of illegal migrants,” Monastyrskiy said.
On Friday, Ukrainian authorities reported intercepting a group of 15 people of Middle Eastern descent, attempting to cross into Ukraine from Belarus – the first such incident on the Ukrainian border since the migrant crisis flared up on the EU frontiers.
Poland earlier this week fired tear gas and water cannon on stone-throwing migrants trying to cross into its territory.
Human rights groups say Poland has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis with a hard line at the frontier, sending back anyone who tries to cross. Poland says this is necessary to stop more people from coming.
‘I have personally listened to the appalling accounts of extreme suffering from desperate people – among whom many families, children and elderly – who spent weeks or even months in squalid and extreme conditions in the cold and wet woods due to these pushbacks,’ Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovia said on Friday in a statement following a four-day mission to Poland.
‘On some occasions, families were separated. I have witnessed clear signs of their painful ordeal: wounds, frostbite, exposure to extreme cold, exhaustion and stress,’ she said. ‘Several people lost their lives. I have no doubt that returning any of these people to the border will lead to more extreme human suffering and more deaths.’
Some countries, including Poland and Ukraine, have accused Lukashenko’s main financial and political backer Moscow of also being behind the crisis.
Monastyrsky claimed Friday that Russia could redirect the crisis to the Belarus-Ukraine border.
‘We do not exclude the possibility that Russia will decide to purposefully send a large number of illegal migrants through Belarus to our territory,’ he told parliament.
‘We are preparing for this situation systematically and thoroughly,’ he said, adding that the situation on the country’s shared border with Belarus is currently under control.
Migrants are seen as they moved to the closed area prepared by the Belarusian government within the border region on Thursday
Ukraine last week said it would deploy thousands of border guards and security personnel to its border with Belarus in preparation for a potential crisis.
The EU and US this week announced fresh sanctions on the Belarusian regime, which has crushed political opposition and independent media since a disputed presidential election last year.
The EU and foreign ministers of the G7 global powers called on Lukashenko’s regime ‘to cease immediately its aggressive and exploitative campaign’.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on a visit to Nigeria that the US could add to sanctions already imposed on the country.
‘This effort to weaponise migration has to stop,’ he said. ‘First and foremost, it is doing a terrible injustice to these people that it has victimised by making them pawns.’
It also emerged Britain will send 100 troops to help Poland build a ‘Trump-style’ wall at the country’s border with Belarus.
The Royal Engineers are being deployed amid a crisis at the border to stop migrants from Iraq and Syria entering Europe.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Belarus had been using migrants as ‘political pawns’ by attempting to assist their passage into Poland in a bid to destabilise the country.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace today vowed the UK will ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ with Poland and Ukraine amid rising tensions with Russia and Belarus
The Polish parliament signed off controversial plans in October to build an 18ft border wall which will cost £297million.
It will be equipped with motion sensors, a monitoring system and cover a roughly 125-mile stretch between the countries.
Mr Wallace also vowed the UK will ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ with Poland and Ukraine amid rising tensions with Russia and Belarus.
Meanwhile NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday NATO is ready to further support allies affected by the Belarus migrant crisis, calling the situation on the border with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia deeply concerning.
‘We remain vigilant and stand ready to further help our allies,’ Stoltenberg told reporters on a visit to Berlin.
‘Belarusian President Alexander) Lukashenko’s regime’s use of vulnerable people as a means to put pressure on other countries is cynical and inhumane. NATO stands in full solidarity with all affected allies.’
Polish media say at least 11 migrants have died since the crisis began over the summer.
A medical charity on Thursday said it had come to the aid of a Syrian couple who reported their one-year-old child had died in the forest.