EU agrees new sanctions on Belarus as border crisis deepens

Thousands remain stranded at Poland-Belarus border as EU agrees to hit Minsk with fifth round of sanctions.

A group of migrants stands in front of Belarusian servicemen as they gather for the distribution of humanitarian aid in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region on November 14, 2021. - Dozens of migrants have been detained after crossing into Poland from Belarus, Warsaw said on November 14, warning of a possible larger breakthrough ahead of an EU meeting to widen sanctions on Belarus [Oksana Manchek/BELTA/AFP/Belarus OUT]

The European Union on Monday agreed to widen sanctions on Belarus as a migration crisis deepens along its border with Poland.

Thousands of people remain stranded in freezing conditions on both sides of the Belarus-Poland border, barred from entering the EU via Poland as a dispute between the bloc and Minsk rages.

The sanctions will target a number of individuals and entities for “facilitation illegal border crossings into the EU,” Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, said.

Poland and other EU members have accused Belarus of encouraging people to cross the Polish border in revenge for Western sanctions on Minsk over a disputed August 2020 election which gave longtime President Lukashenko a sixth term and sparked mass anti-government protests.

Minsk has denied the charges and has threatened to retaliate against any new measures, including by shutting down Russian gas supplies to Europe via pipelines that run through Belarus.

This live blog is now closed. These were Monday’s updates, as they happened:

Preparing new Belarus sanctions over ‘inhumane’ crisis: US state department

The United States is preparing new sanctions targeting the regime of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, in coordination with the European Union, over the “inhumane facilitation” of migrant flows on its border with Poland.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters the sanctions would “continue to hold the Lukashenko regime accountable for its ongoing attacks on democracy and human rights and international norms.”

Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was calling on Russia to use its influence to push Alexander Lukashenko to cease its “callous exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people”.

“There’s no question they have that relationship and that ability to impact,” she added.

Migrants gather on the Belarusian-Polish border near the Polish Kuznica border crossing [Leonid Shcheglov/ BELTA/AFP/Belarus OUT]

Czech government offers to help Poland with border crisis

The Czech Republic has offered its neighbour Poland help in dealing with the crisis on its border.

Caretaker Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Prague was willing to send support as soon as the Polish government requested it.

Putin, Macron agree on ‘de-escalation’ of border crisis

French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed that tensions on the Poland-Belarus border where refugees and asylum seekers have been massing had to be de-escalated, Macron’s office said.

After a telephone conversation lasting one hour and 45 minutes between Macron and Putin, the Elysee palace said that “it is our hope that this long conversation will yield results in the coming days.”

Putin promised Macron that “he will raise the topic” with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, the Elysee said.

Belarus’ Lukashenko, Germany’s Merkel held phone talks -report

Belarus’s leader Alexander Lukashenko and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel have held a phone conversation, social media of Belarus’s state reporters said, the Reuters news agency reported.

No further details were provided.

The talks are the first contact between the Belarusian president and a Western leader after presidential elections in Belarus in August 2020.

People gather on the Belarusian-Polish border near the Polish border crossing in Kuznica [Oksana Manchek/BELTA/AFP/Belarus OUT]

Construction on permanent barrier to start this year: Poland

Poland plans to start construction this year on a permanent barrier at the Belarus border, Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski says.

Kaminski tweeted that the construction, once it begins, will focus at first on four sections, with the building taking place around the clock.

EU set to impose new sanctions on Belarus in ‘coming days’

The European Union will soon slap sanctions on Belarus over the migrant crisis, after the bloc’s foreign ministers gave their backing, Brussels’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said Monday.

After meeting the ministers, Borrell said the new sanctions would hit “quite an important number” of individuals and entities for “facilitating illegal border crossings into the EU”.

“By expanding the scope of the sanctions we will be able to target those responsible for exploiting vulnerable migrants,” Borrell said.

Diplomats said the new penalties are expected to target around 30 Belarusian officials, the state airline and travel agencies accused of helping deliver migrants to the border.

The bloc has already placed 166 people tied to the Belarus government – including Lukashenko and his sons – on a blacklist over a crackdown on opponents since disputed elections last year.

Syrian airline suspends Damascus-Minsk flights

The business development director of Syria’s private Cham Wings Airlines said his company stopped flights to the Belarus capital of Minsk because of the “humanitarian conditions on the border”.

Osama Satea said there was “no pressure from any side” or “any party” that led the company to take the decision.

Cham Wings Airlines on Saturday suspended flights between Damascus and Minsk because of the “critical circumstances” along the Belarus-Poland border where thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have been trying to cross into the European Union.

Migrants collect their belongings before leaving a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region and heading towards the Polish border crossing in Kuznica on November 15, 2021 [Oksana Manchek/BELTA/AFP/Belarus OUT]

UK PM Johnson say Britain in solidarity with Poland

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK stood in solidarity with Poland, as the European Union stepped up sanctions on Belarus over a migrant crisis that has left thousands stranded on its border with Poland.

“On Belarus and Russia, we are showing solidarity with our friends in Poland as you would expect and we would encourage everyone to work for peace and stability in the whole European region,” he said at a news conference when asked about the situation.


Situation on border under control: Interior minister

Lithuanian officials say there is a rising number of attempts by people to cross its border from Belarus, but the situation on the border was under control.

“They try entering from many other places which previously were not used,” Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite told reporters.

Migrants head towards the Polish Kuznica border crossing on the Belarusian-Polish border on November 15, 2021 [Leonid Shcheglov/BELTA/AFP/Belarus OUT]

Putin must use influence end border crisis: Germany

Germany called on Russia to exercise its influence over Belarus to end the migrant crisis.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas spoke cautiously about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to help resolve the crisis at the EU borders.

“Putin is certainly the one who can simply use his influence on [President Alexander] Lukashenko to end this really inhuman attempt,” he said, accusing Belarus of using asylum seekers as a political tool to put pressure on the EU.

What’s Putin’s gain in the Belarus migrant crisis?

Poland and its Western allies have accused Russia of masterminding the crisis along its border with Belarus, but Moscow denies any involvement.

So what role is the Kremlin, an ally and creditor of Lukashenko’s administration, really taking? Read our explainer here.

Minsk must be held accountable for human trafficking, Baltic states say

Belarus is forcing migrants to breach the EU border and Minsk must be held accountable for human trafficking, EU member states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have said.

“We … condemn the actions taken by the Lukashenko regime instrumentalising migrants for political purposes”, the presidents of the three Baltic states said in a joint statement after meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda via video link.

Estonian President Alar Karis, Latvian President Egils Levits and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda also called on the European Commission to introduce, “without delay”, changes in EU laws to tighten asylum possibilities.

They also said the EU should pay for the construction of barriers at the bloc’s external border, such as the one with Belarus.

Poland says thousands gathering at closed border crossing

A large crowd of migrants and refugees was gathering at a shut border crossing between Poland and Belarus, videos released by Poland’s border guards and defence ministry showed.

“More and more groups of migrants are being brought to the Kuznica border crossing by Belarusian forces,” the defence ministry said on Twitter, as videos appeared to show hundreds of people in front of lines of Polish police and soldiers.

Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik said there were “thousands of migrants” at the crossing.

“Polish forces are prepared for any scenario,” he said.

Latvia begins military exercise near Belarus border

Latvia has deployed 3,000 troops for a previously unannounced military exercise near its border with Belarus amid the border crisis.

“We cannot exclude that part of these [migrant] groups will move further north and can reach the Latvian border. We’re ready for it,” Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks told the national broadcaster.

The message to Belarus is that the Latvian army movements are “not just for fun”, he added.

The military drill began on Saturday and is scheduled to last until December 12, army spokeswoman Sandra Brale told the Baltic News Service.

Belarusian service members stand guard as migrants and refugees gather for the distribution of humanitarian aid in a makeshift camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, Belarus [Oksana Manchuk/BelTA/Handout via Reuters]

‘No way I’m going back to Iraq’

Iraqis who fled their home country in a bid to reach the EU have told Al Jazeera how they paid thousands of dollars to reach Belarus and its border with Poland.

Despite the prospect of being denied entry into the bloc, some say they will not turn back.

Read the article here.

‘People are managing to get through’

Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from the town of Hajnowka, near Poland’s border with Belarus, said the presence of approximately 15,000 Polish security forces in the area did not appear to be deterring asylum seekers from attempting to cross into the EU.

“Regardless of how many forces Poland puts along the border … people are still managing to get through,” he said.

“And we are hearing that there is a push this morning on the Belarusian side, from those people who are stuck there, to again try and get past the border.”

Von der Leyen slams Lukashenko, vows sanctions

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says the EU will impose further sanctions on Belarus to tackle Lukashenko’s “perfidious” treatment of asylum seekers.

She said the measures would include targeted penalties against airlines adjudged to be involved in the crisis.

“We are also trying to help the countries of origin,” von der Leyen told a conference in Munich, adding that the “coming days will be decisive”.

Moscow says Lukashenko not entirely to blame

The Kremin says it is “completely wrong” to entirely blame Lukashenko for the situation unfolding on the border with Poland.

“Lukashenko is not creating the situation that is taking place at the border,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Russia is ready to act as a “negotiating intermediary” to help resolve the crisis.

Minsk depends heavily on Russian President Putin’s government as an ally and creditor.

Moscow sent paratroopers to Belarus last week for military drills, having earlier deployed two nuclear-capable strategic bombers on patrol missions over its neighbour.

Iraq to repatriate citizens

Iraq’s government says it will begin repatriating its citizens stuck on the Poland-Belarus border later this week.

The first repatriation flight will take place on Thursday for those who wish to return voluntarily, foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Sahaf said.

‘People are dying in the forest’

Asylum seekers have recounted their harrowing experiences, including beatings by border guards and enduring days without clean water, while attempting to cross from Belarus to Poland in an Al Jazeera long read.

Read the article here.

Yousef, from Syria, told Al Jazeera people ‘are dying in the forest’ amid the border crisis [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

‘Can’t put into words what people are going through’: Reporter

Katy Fallon, a freelance journalist covering the Poland-Belarus crisis for Al Jazeera, says ambulances were attending to people who had “nearly frozen to death” in the region after temperatures again plunged below freezing overnight on Sunday.

“Can’t put into words what people are going through here,” she tweeted.

‘Nobody wants to go back’: Lukashenko

President Lukashenko says Belarus is trying to persuade asylum seekers camped out near its western border to return home but with no success, according to state news agency BelTA.

“Active work is under way in this area, to convince people – please, return home. But nobody wants to go back,” he said.

The Belarusian leader also reiterated warnings that Minsk would retaliate against any new sanctions imposed on it by the West, BelTA reported.

EU aims to sanction Belarus travel agents, top diplomat says

The EU hopes to extend its sanctions against Belarus to include airlines, travel agents and others involved in transporting asylum seekers to the country, the bloc’s top diplomat has said.

Arriving at the EU foreign ministers’ meeting, Josep Borrell told reporters he had warned the Belarusian foreign minister that the situation at the border to the EU was completely unacceptable and that humanitarian help was needed.

Lithuania calls for Belarus ‘no-fly zone’

Lithuania’s foreign minister has called for all Belarusian airports to be off-limits for airlines potentially carrying asylum seekers.

It is also offering to help with repatriations from Belarus back to the Middle East.

“We need to make Minsk airport a no-fly zone,” Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters as he arrived for the EU foreign ministers’ meeting.

Belarus airline bans some nationals from arriving via UAE

Belarus’s state-run airline Belavia has announced that Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, and Afghans are banned from incoming flights from the United Arab Emirates at Dubai’s request.

In a statement to citizens of the four countries posted on its website, Belavia said they would not be allowed on flights from Dubai to Belarus “in accordance with the decision of competent authorities in the UAE”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies