EU leaders seek to halt migrant crossings from Belarus

Bloc members Poland and Lithuania have been struggling to cope with an unusually high number of migrants arriving at their borders in recent months.

EU leaders seek to halt migrant crossings from Belarus

European Union leaders were meeting to discuss migration to the bloc and how to stop the influx of refugees arriving via neighbouring Belarus.

EU members Poland and Lithuania have been struggling to cope with an unusually high number of migrants arriving at their borders with
Belarus in recent months.

The European Union is accusing President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime of using them to destabilise the 27-country bloc in retaliation for EU sanctions.

“We have to be decisive. We need decisions. We need actions and we should do this as soon as possible,” Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda said ahead of the talks.

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the summit
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the summit (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

According to Lithuanian media, he would be seeking EU funding for a physical barrier on the Baltic country’s border with Belarus.

Other EU states have been thinking about building fences. Earlier this month, the Polish government approved a Bill that would regulate the construction of a high barrier with motion sensors on the border with Belarus to deter people from crossing.

Thousands of migrants have been lured to Belarus on tourist visas and encouraged to cross into Poland, Lithuania and to a lesser extent Latvia.

Several people have died of exhaustion at the Polish-Belarusian border since August, when large numbers of people from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan, but also from Africa, started trying to cross, hoping to eventually reach western European nations.

Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda arrives for the meeting
Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda said the EU needed to be ‘decisive’ (Johanna Geron, Pool Photo via AP)

According to a draft of the meeting’s conclusions, EU leaders would agree that they would not “accept any attempt by third countries to instrumentalise migrants for political purposes” and condemn “such hybrid attacks at the EU’s borders”.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, said leaders would also looked at ways to stop airlines carrying migrants to Belarus.

“We have to hold the Belarusian government accountable for these actions, but also to have a look at the airlines and travel operators who are co-operating with this way of using human beings as arms, pushing (them) against the border, creating situations in which there is an extraordinary violation of human rights,” he said.

The migration numbers began increasing a year ago after the EU imposed sanctions on Mr Lukashenko’s government over the August 2020 presidential election, which the West views as rigged, and the security crackdown on the Belarusian opposition and peaceful protesters that followed.

Migration has been a sensitive and divisive topic since the arrival in Europe in 2015 of more than one million migrants, most of them refugees fleeing conflict in Syria. The exodus sparked one of the EU’s biggest political crises and member states have yet to find an agreement on a system that would guarantee shared responsibility for the new arrivals.

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