Belarus moves some migrants from the Polish border to a nearby shelter

Reports on Wednesday said hundreds of migrants who had been camped out in the cold on the Poland-Belarus border have been moved to a warehouse nearby in Belarusian territory, with some still hoping to enter the European Union.

The move came a day after a clash erupted in the border crisis, in which migrants threw stones at Polish troops assembled on their side of a barbed fence, injuring 12 people, and responded with water cannons and tear gas. Warsaw accused the Belarusian forces of instigating the conflict, while the government in Minsk denounced the Polish “acts of violence”.

Migrants, mostly from the Middle East, have been stuck at the border since November 8. Most of them are fleeing conflict or desperation back home and want to reach Germany or other Western European countries.

The West has accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of using immigrants as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for the sanctions it imposed on his authoritarian regime. Belarus denies masterminding the crisis, which has seen migrants enter the country since the summer and then try to cross into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

On Wednesday, Polish border guards tweeted a video showing migrants with bags and backpacks guiding Belarusian troops away from the camp near the Kuznica border crossing, and Polish Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasek said he had received information about them leaving in buses.

Belarus’ state news agency BELTA reported that they were taken to a heated warehouse-like building about 500 meters (yards) from the border near Brozge, which gave them the opportunity to rest indoors after several days in tents.

One of them, an Iraqi Kurd named Miran Ali, took a video at the warehouse and said the Belarusian authorities had told them they would not be forced to return home. In response, the emigrants chanted “Belarus! Belarus! Belarus!” in gratitude.

“This is the joy and happiness of the Kurdish people after they were told that they would not be returned to Kurdistan by force, and that they could wait here until Germany or one of the cities in Germany took them there,” Ali said. Video recorded. “These people express their happiness and optimism in this cold and ugly camp.”

They sat on blankets, most of them still wrapped in heavy jackets and overcoats.

Belta reported that about 1,000 migrants agreed on Tuesday to move into the building “to wait for the situation to resolve,” and quoted some of them as saying they had no plans to return to their countries of origin. Most of the building’s space was allocated to the migrants, who were provided with food, water, medical aid, mattresses and pillows, the agency said.

Some migrants chose to stay in camps near the border. The Polish Ministry of Defense published a video showing people and tents there, with some smoke rising from the campfires.

The next steps in the crisis are unclear. Although arrangements have been made for flights from Minsk to Iraq to bring back those who want to return home, it is uncertain how many will leave. Iraq appealed to its citizens to return to their country, telling them that the road to the European Union was closed. Today, Thursday, it is expected that the first flight will begin from Minsk for the voluntary return to Iraq.

Belarus also released a video from its state border commission, which it claimed showed Lithuanian border guards with dogs pushing migrants away from the Belarus-Lithuania borders on Tuesday night.

Lithuania denied the claim and released its own video of the incident. She blamed Belarusian officials for pushing the group of 13 migrants towards the Lithuanian side and preventing them from returning to Belarus after they were stopped by Lithuanian guards.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Lukashenko for the second time this week, stressing that migrants should be given a chance to return to their countries of origin with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration.

Steve Alter, a spokesman for the German Interior Ministry, denied that Berlin was planning to bring migrants to Germany. “The road to Belarus is a dead end for most people who want to go to Germany. There are no plans to agree to take people in,” he said.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said UN aid is starting to get to migrants and it is important to ensure humanitarian agencies have permanent access, even if it means talking to Lukashenko, whose legitimacy the West questions after his disputed re-election in 2020.

“It makes sense to talk with those who have the opportunity to change this situation in Minsk, even when it comes to a ruler whose legitimacy Germany does not recognize, like all other European member states,” he said, adding that Merkel has in coordination with other EU partners and remains committed to the bloc’s position by tightening Sanctions on Minsk.

Meanwhile, Polish President Andrzej Duda said there was “no military threat” at the border from civilian police and border guards who are there to prevent illegal immigration. He said during a visit to Montenegro that the presence of the Polish army there is mainly a form of support.

Duda stressed that Poland will not accept any international decisions on the border confrontation that take place without the participation of Warsaw, referring to the talks involving Merkel and Lukashenko.

It is difficult to verify information on both sides of the border due to government restrictions. Poland’s state of emergency keeps journalists, human rights workers and others away from the border along an area 3 kilometers (2 miles) deep, and Belarus limits the presence of independent journalists.

Estonia, which is also affected by the movements of migrants but to a lesser extent, said it would build a temporary barbed wire barrier of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) on its eastern border with Russia as a temporary security solution.

Located in the northernmost part of the three Baltic states with a population of 1.3 million, Estonia shares a 294-kilometre (183-mile) land border with Russia and a 340-kilometre border with Latvia. It does not adjoin Belarus.

Estonian Foreign Minister Eva Maria Lemets told ER channel on Tuesday that the crisis stems from Lukashenko’s attempt to be recognized by the West as president and to lift EU sanctions, stressing the need for them to stay in place.

“From our point of view, it is important that the EU remains united and exerts its influence on Belarus through action,” Limets said, adding that new sanctions should be imposed as soon as possible.

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