The presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia urged the international community to hold the “Lukashenko regime responsible for human trafficking,” during a joint press conference in Vilnius on Monday.
Commenting on the current migrant crisis at the borders with Belarus and Poland, the leaders of the Baltic states called for a tightening of the EU’s asylum policy, urging the so far reluctant EU executive to provide “sufficient financial support to the EU to build physical and infrastructure barriers”.
“We can see how the situation on the borders of Lithuania is deteriorating. This situation requires immediate solutions and actions at the European and international levels. The growing threat on the borders with Belarus is not only the problem of Lithuania and Poland. We protect the external borders of the European Union and NATO,” said the President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nosoda. Atlantic”.
Nosoda added that Lithuania is ready to support Poland if it activates Article 4 of NATO to request consultations, which any member state can do if it believes its “territorial integrity, political independence or security” is at risk.
In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers met and agreed to expand their existing sanctions targeting Lukashenko and his allies to include individuals or companies found to have encouraged border crossings.
After the ministers’ meeting, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the new sanctions would hit “a very significant number” of individuals and entities for “facilitating illegal border crossings into the EU”.
“By expanding the scope of sanctions, we will be able to target those responsible for exploiting vulnerable migrants,” Borrell added.
Diplomats said the new sanctions are expected to target about 30 Belarus officials, the state airline and travel agencies.
Hundreds of migrants found themselves trapped at a border crossing on Monday, unable to advance or retreat between Poland and Belarus.
They came thinking the borders were open, but their hopes were quickly dashed.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has threatened to retaliate against the new sanctions, claims his people are trying to bring back stranded migrants but many are refusing to go.
There is no reason to believe Lukashenko
After claiming that Belarus did not want the border situation to escalate into a “conflict,” Lukashenko said: “Active work is underway in this region to persuade people – please, go home. But no one wants to go back.”
But Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis warned that Brussels had “no reason” to believe Lukashenko.
The Belarusian leader also noted that if Poland did not provide a “humanitarian corridor”, Minsk could transport migrants to Germany via the state-run airline Belavia.
“We will send them to Munich with our planes if necessary,” Lukashenko added.
On Monday, the Polish Ministry of the Interior said that Belarusian forces are transporting groups of migrants to the Koznica border crossing, and announced that they would begin building a border wall next month.
Belarus’ State Border Commission dismissed the accusation, saying the migrants were “self-organised” and that Belarusian border guards were there to “ensure safety”.
Lukashenko repeated his warnings that Belarus would defend itself if new sanctions were imposed.
Belarus faced waves of EU sanctions in response to the crackdown on dissent after last year’s presidential election and Lukashenko’s decision A Ryanair flight was stopped in Minsk earlier this year for the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevic.
Lukashenko has so far escaped the increasing isolation of Belarus with the help of Moscow, which continues to defend the Belarusian leader.
Repatriation flights for immigrants
According to Belarus, there are about 2,000 people in the migrant camp, including pregnant women and children.
But Poland says there are between 3,000 and 4,000 migrants at the border. It refused to let the migrants enter and arrested 50 on Sunday after they entered the country.
Warsaw accused Belarus of preventing migrants from leaving.
Belavia has announced that citizens of the Middle East will be banned from flights from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, based on their request.
The Iraqi government said on Monday The first flight to bring home its citizens stranded on the Belarus-Poland border It will be organized on Thursday “on a voluntary basis”.
Local police in Poland’s Podlasie region announced that four Europeans were arrested during road searches for “helping at illegal border crossings” on 15 November.
Aid agencies believe at least 10 migrants have died so far and have warned of an unfolding humanitarian crisis as temperatures dip below zero.