Belarus President Lukashenko agrees to E.U. talks on ending migrant standoff

Published : November 18, 2021 15:49 IST

Lukashenko is accused by the E.U. of orchestrating a migrant crisis in response to sanctions. Photo: Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP/dpa/picture alliance

In a call with the German chancellor, Belarus' president has said his country is ready to talk with the E.U.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko agreed on November 17 that the crisis on the Belarus-Poland border needs to be solved by dialogue between E.U. and Belarusian representatives, Belarus' state-run Belta news agency reported. In their second phone call this week, the Belarusian leader and Merkel "agreed that the problem as a whole will be brought up to the level of Belarus and the E.U.," Belta reported, adding that officials "from both sides will immediately start negotiations."

Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that during the call the chancellor stressed the need for humanitarian aid and repatriation facilities to be organized by the U.N. and E.U. to help the affected people. The two leaders spoke on November 15 and also reportedly discussed organizing humanitarian aid for the thousands of people stranded at the E.U.-Belarus border.

Belarus faces new sanctions

Brussels has accused Lukashenko of "weaponizing" migration by allegedly facilitating the transport of thousands of migrants to the E.U.-Belarus border. On November 15, E.U. foreign affairs ministers agreed to back a modified set of sanctions targeting the "instrumentalization of migrants for political purposes." The measures are aimed at Belarusian individuals and entities considered responsible for trafficking migrants in what has been labeled a "hybrid attack" on the bloc.

What is the latest situation at the border?

On November 16, tensions were high at the border, with Poland firing water cannons and tear gas at migrants who reportedly threw objects at border guards. However, Polish authorities said on November 17 the situation had calmed down, and the migrant camp by the fenced-off Kuznica border crossing was "slowly emptying." Maciej Wasik, a Polish deputy interior minister, said he had received information that Belarusian authorities were bussing migrants away from the border crossing area, although it was unclear where the people were being moved to.

Belarusian state news agency Belta reported that migrants were moved to a heated logistics center near the border crossing. A video on Twitter posted by Poland's Border Guard on November 17 showed migrants with bags being directed by Belarusian forces away from the border to an "unknown location." In a later tweet, the border guard said around 1,000 migrants remain in the area near Belarus' Bruzgi border crossing, and the rest had been "taken by Belarusian services."

For more than 10 days, a large group of migrants, mainly escaping conflict in the Middle East, has been stuck near the Kuznica-Bruzgi border crossing, having been both denied entry to the E.U. and largely prevented by Belarusian authorities from turning back. Polish authorities have responded by sending thousands of troops to counter migrants who attempt to breach border fencing. Many of the migrants aim to reach Germany or other Western European countries.

wmr/fb (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)

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