E.U. to 'blacklist' firms trafficking migrants to Belarus

Published : November 24, 2021 17:00 IST

Brussels already has the Belarusian carrier Belavia in its sights for sanctions. Photo: Wolfgang Minich/picture alliance

The E.U. is pushing to curb Belarus' channeling of migrants to the border, calling it a bid to "destabilize the bloc."

European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen has said the E.U. aims to create a watchlist to deter intermediaries from transporting migrants to Belarus. Speaking at the European Parliament, von der Leyen said Brussels would stand in solidarity with E.U. member states Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. She rejected the idea that there was a migrant crisis at Europe's eastern frontier, saying instead that it was an attempt by Belarus to "destabilize the bloc."

What is the latest plan?

Von der Leyen said she would propose rules to European Parliament lawmakers to "blacklist all means and modes of transport involved in trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants." "Today the Commission is putting forward a legislative proposal to do this," she said.

Von der Leyen said the E.U. did not recognize President Alexander Lukashenko's regime, which the bloc says is using migration as a weapon. "It is the E.U. as a whole that is being challenged," von der Leyen said. "This is not a migration crisis. This is the attempt of an authoritarian regime to try to destabilize its democratic neighbors."

"We agreed that to counter this behavior, it is important to coordinate our sanctions and to work with countries of origin and the airlines that are transporting migrants to Minsk." The commission chief said the E.U. was coordinating with the United States, Britain and Canada on a new package of sanctions.

Belarus airline barred from leasing jets

European Council President Charles Michel, also speaking to lawmakers in Strasbourg, said the bloc was already planning to ban Belarus airline Belavia from leasing jets as part of the censure program. He told lawmakers that a decision by member states on an expanded sanctions package was "imminent." It would include the ban on leasing planes from E.U.-based companies, he said. Several other airlines have already halted or cut down on flights to Minsk since the E.U. complained that migrants were being tempted to Belarus with false promises about a route into the E.U.

Migrants — many of them fleeing war and poverty in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan — have been entering the European Union from Belarus, particularly via Poland. Belarus is already under sanctions from Brussels for its crackdown on protesters who rejected elections held last year as fraudulent. Minsk officials also forcibly grounded a Ryanair plane in May to arrest a dissident journalist on board.

rc/rs (AFP, Reuters, dpa)