Belarusian authorities have escorted around 1,000 people, most of them from the Middle East, to the Polish border in an escalation of a deadly crisis that has already left people desperate to reach the EU trapped between borders and at least eight dead as a result of the exposure.
Videos released by Belarusian media on Monday showed armed Belarusian border guards in riot gear guiding the column of people, which included families with children, along a highway from the border town of Bruzgi to a forest along the river. Polish region of Podlasie as European countries accused the state of using the migrants in a “hybrid attack”.
Video reports then showed a dead end at the border, where Polish border guards reportedly used tear gas to push people back as some in the crowd attempted to cut barbed wire or knock down border fences to cross the border. Polish helicopters flew over the scene as some migrants chanted “Germany!” Â», Their desired destination, according to a video posted on social networks.
By the evening, hundreds of people pitched tents and lit campfires in a wooded border area, suggesting clashes could be repeated in the coming days as Polish authorities pledged to keep people out. in the country from Belarus.
Shots can be heard in a video posted on social media. It is not clear if anyone was injured as a result. In the footage, a voice off camera says Belarusian border guards opened fire, possibly in the air. Belarusian officials confirmed the shots were audible, but claimed they came from the Polish side of the border.
Poland and other EU countries have accused Belarus of trying to provoke a new refugee crisis in Europe in revenge for their criticism of Alexander Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on the opposition and European sanctions after the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in May, effectively opening a new migratory route to the bloc.
An Iraqi Kurdish woman told the Guardian that she was brought to Belarus by a travel agency that provided them with flights to Minsk and then a transfer to the EU’s external border. People can be charged between â¬ 15,000 and â¬ 20,000 (Â£ 12,800 to Â£ 17,100) when they arrive in Belarus.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU should now extend its sanctions against the Belarusian regime. She said: âBelarus must stop putting people’s lives at risk. The instrumentalization of migrants for political ends by Belarus is unacceptable.
Von der Leyen also pledged greater support for Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to deal with the crisis and said the EU would explore “how to sanction, including through blacklists, airlines from third countries active in human trafficking â.
The crisis along the European Union’s eastern border has been brewing for months but has intensified in the past 24 hours. Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk told Polish public radio on Monday that Belarus was trying to provoke a “major incident, preferably with gunfire and casualties”, and the defense minister, Mariusz BÅaszczak, declared that 12,000 soldiers were “ready to defend the Polish border”. Polish government spokesperson Piotr Mueller said there were 3,000 to 4,000 people near the Polish border.
Those trying to cross Belarus to the EU have been trapped in between since October, when Polish police were allowed to summarily deport migrants and ignore asylum claims. Belarusian border guards have refused to allow them to turn around, meaning people from countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have been left in inhospitable forests as temperatures drop below zero.
Anton Bychkovsky, spokesperson for Belarusian border guards, told The Associated Press that those at the border were seeking to “exercise their right to claim refugee status in the EU”. He said they had come together in such a large group in order to avoid “a forced eviction by the Polish side”.
Crystal van Leeuwen, head of medical emergencies at MÃ©decins Sans FrontiÃ¨res, told the Guardian last week that NGOs urgently need access to the secure area so that migrants’ claims and international protection are respected.
Poland has reported nearly 30,000 illegal border crossings this year, including more than 17,000 in October. Many are trying to flee to Germany, which has said it has received more than 6,100 refugees via Poland from Belarus since the start of the year.
Yet these efforts have rarely seemed as organized as the mass column on Belarus’ M6 motorway on Monday, which critics saw as a dramatic attempt by Lukashenko to increase pressure on his neighbor. Tensions have soared between the two countries with the sharp increase in border crossings in October. In one case, Polish officials accused Belarusian troops of firing across the border.
Belarus has denied having any influence on the direction of the flow of migrants. “The indifference and inhuman attitude of the Polish authorities have pushed the refugees to take such a step of desperation,” the Belarusian border guard said in a statement on Monday.