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19 Aug, 2021 15:56

EU countries bordering Belarus given handout by Brussels to deal with flood of refugees fleeing through Eastern European nation

EU countries bordering Belarus given handout by Brussels to deal with flood of refugees fleeing through Eastern European nation

Faced with a sharp rise in the number of desperate people from Africa and the Middle East seeking refuge coming through the forested frontier from Belarus, the EU is now stumping up cash and equipment to try and stem the flow.

In a statement issued after the bloc held talks on the crisis on Wednesday, member states’ interior ministers “agreed to deploy additional experts and agency teams as well as the necessary technical equipment” to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

According to the release, “the ministers expressed solidarity with the three affected states”. Slovenia’s Interior Minister Aleš Hojs, whose country currently holds the presidency of the EU Council, further reiterated that the bloc stands against Belarus’ purported “attempts to instrumentalize human beings for political purposes”. In recent weeks, Minsk has been accused of flying in vulnerable refugees from countries like Iraq, Syria and the Congo, before bussing them to the border with the EU and encouraging them to cross over in an effort to stoke a political crisis in response to sanctions from Brussels.

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On the same day, Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak revealed that over 900 of its troops had been deployed to respond to an escalating crisis at its border. According to a statement published the same day, 2,100 people attempted to cross the frontier with Belarus this month alone.

Brussels last week praised the suspension of air travel between the Iraqi and Belarusian capitals in the hope “that the situation will stabilize when it comes to the flights between Baghdad and Minsk” and slow the pace of asylum seekers seeking to cross over.

Latvia began pushing dozens of migrants back from the border after Riga triggered a state of emergency over its shared 170 kilometer frontier with Minsk. As of August 3, more than 4,000 people have reportedly crossed illegally into the small Baltic country, which has a population of less than 3 million. Lithuania’s Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said that Vilnius needs an additional €500 million to strengthen its border with Belarus.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis has similarly accused Belarus’ embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants as a “political tool” earlier in July and implored Brussels to impose a fifth slew of sanctions. Lukashenko has previously remarked that the country could not stop the migrants as Belarus has “neither the money nor the strength” as a result of economic embargoes.

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Brussels maintains that the surge of migrants is a retaliation from Lukashenko after the bloc rolled out sanctions against the country over its presidential elections last year, which the EU, and many other international observers, deems to have been “fraudulent”. Tens of thousands took to the streets to demand a fresh poll and were met with a violent crackdown from authorities and a wave of arrests aimed at opposition politicians and activists.

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