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9 Sep, 2021 10:21

Belarus set to refuse illegal migrants deported from European Union countries, as Lukashenko ramps up refugee border row with West

Belarus set to refuse illegal migrants deported from European Union countries, as Lukashenko ramps up refugee border row with West

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s embattled leader, has put forward a new bill that would allow his country to reject migrants and would-be asylum seekers deported from the EU for crossing the border without permission.

The presidential press service confirmed on Thursday that Lukashenko had submitted the draft law to the country's National Assembly in a bid to suspend existing agreements with Brussels. "The document was prepared in response to the unfriendly actions taken by the EU and its member states towards Belarus," the statement said.

Under the rule change, Minsk's obligations to accept those deported from the bloc would be scrapped, meaning authorities can refuse to accept those pushed back after trying to cross the border, as well as potentially blocking deportation flights. Under the present rules, Belarus has been obliged to re-admit those who had entered EU nations through its territory.

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The move comes as Brussels accuses Lukashenko's government of "weaponizing" refugees by allegedly laying on flights from troubled destinations in Africa and the Middle East, before driving migrants to the border and encouraging them to cross over. Neighboring nations, including Poland and Lithuania, have begun reinforcing their frontiers with walls and barriers, while Brussels is stepping up funding for border patrols.

Last month, the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR, slammed Poland for turning away people intending to claim asylum. Officials said the country should respect the rights of "people fleeing war, violence and persecution."

Brussels insists that the sudden rise in the number of desperate people attempting to cross over from Belarus is a calculated political effort designed to put pressure on the bloc over sanctions it has imposed on Minsk. A series of economic and political measures were unveiled earlier this year over what it describes as a brutal crackdown on opposition in Belarus since last summer's presidential election.

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Activists and many international observers insist that vote was rigged in Lukashenko's favor, and tens of thousands took to the streets across the country to demand a fresh poll. Authorities responded with tear gas, violently broke up protests, and have since begun a widespread campaign of arrests. Earlier this week, a court in Minsk handed more than a decade in jail to one of the leading organizers of the demonstrations, Maria Kolesnikova, who prosecutors accused of attempting to overthrow the government.

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