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Hundreds try to cross EU border despite easing of crisis

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SOKOLKA: Hundreds of migrants have again tried to cross the border from Belarus into Poland, Warsaw said on Friday, despite signs of the crisis easing after migrants left a makeshift encampment.

Polish border guards said there were attempted crossings by two groups on what is the eastern border of the European Union and Nato — one involving 500 migrants, some of whom threw rocks and tear gas canisters.

The border guards said they had detained 45 migrants.

Belarusian state news agency Belta said 2,000 migrants who had been camped out in freezing conditions on the border spent the night in a nearby warehouse after clearing out of their camp.

Belta published photos of the migrants lying on mats in the facility and wrote that “for several it was their first warm night”.

The West accuses Belarus of artificially creating a crisis by bringing in would-be migrants and taking them to the border with promises of an easy crossing into the EU.

Belarus has denied this and urged the EU to take them in.

On Friday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, with the allies stressing “the importance of the establishment of cooperation between Minsk and the EU to resolve the problem,” according to the Kremlin.

‘Pushbacks must end’
The Council of Europe human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic called the humanitarian situation along the border “alarming” and demanded an end to Poland’s controversial returns of migrants back to Belarus.

“I have personally listened to the appalling accounts of extreme suffering from desperate people… who spent weeks or even months in squalid and extreme conditions in the cold and wet woods due to these pushbacks,” she said in a statement after a four-day mission to Poland.

“All pushbacks must end immediately.” She also called on Poland to allow rights activists and media “immediate and unimpeded access to all areas along the border”.

Belarus said Thursday that there were a total of around 7,000 migrants in the ex-Soviet country.

It said that it would take responsibility for sending around 5,000 of those migrants home and claimed that the EU would create a “humanitarian corridor” to Germany for around 2,000.

But Germany swiftly shot down that claim, saying it was not true that it would take in 2,000 migrants.

Meanwhile hundreds of Iraqis who had failed to cross into the EU from Belarus returned home on Thursday on the first repatriation flight organised by Baghdad.

Despite the repatriations, Poland said pressure on the border was continuing.

“There are still attempts by migrants to cross the border illegally,” said Marek Pietrzak, spokesman of Poland’s Territorial Defence Force, which has soldiers on the border.

Border guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska told AFP on Friday about an incident late on Thursday involving around 500 migrants.

“People in the largest group… threw rocks and someone also hurled tear gas at Polish officials. At the same time the Belarusian personnel were using lasers to blind them,” said She said four Polish soldiers had sustained injuries that did not require hospitalisation.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2021


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