Belarus refugee crisis

EU to slap sanctions on Belarus in response to migrant 'trafficking' to Polish border

Migrants in Belarus look across the border into Poland where security forces are positioned
Migrants in Belarus look across the border into Poland where security forces are positioned Maxim GUCHEK BELTA/AFP

The European Union will impose sanctions on Belarus' airline and on international firms involved in migrant trafficking that aims to aggravate the crisis on Poland's border, top officials have said. 

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The sanctions package will be approved by member states in the coming days, but European Council chief Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen revealed details to MEPs.

 Von der Leyen, addressing the European Parliament, accused Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko's regime of mounting a "hybrid attack against the EU" by funnelling Middle Eastern migrants towards Poland.

She said her commission would draw up a sanctions "blacklist" of travel and transport firms involved in trafficking migrants into the bloc, for approval by parliament and member states.

"We propose rules to blacklist all means and modes of transport involved in trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants," she said.

She added that the measures would be coordinated with Britain, Canada and the United States.

Also addressing the MEPs, Michel said that Belarus airline Belavia, which leases most of its planes from firms in EU member states, notably Ireland, would be targeted.

"We will not allow the Belarus regime to intimidate us and to undermine our values and our unity," he said, giving only "one example" of the sanctions on their way.

"The majority of the fleet of Belavia are aircraft leased from EU companies, this will be halted when the decision is taken, which is imminent," he said.

War and poverty

Several Middle Eastern airlines have already halted or reduced flights to Minsk since Brussels complained that migrants were being lured to Belarus with false promises of a route into EU member Poland.

The migrants, many fleeing war and poverty, have spent thousands to fly into Belarus on tourist visas. Once at the border, they are faced with a razor wire barrier and squalid, freezing conditions.

Migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere gather at the checkpoint "Kuznitsa" at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Some of the migrants have children with them at the border in their desperate bid to reach the EU. Most are fleeing conflict, poverty and instability in the Middle East and elsewhere. (Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA via AP)
Migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere gather at the checkpoint "Kuznitsa" at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Some of the migrants have children with them at the border in their desperate bid to reach the EU. Most are fleeing conflict, poverty and instability in the Middle East and elsewhere. (Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA via AP) © Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA via AP

The West accuses Belarus of engineering the crisis in revenge for sanctions slapped on Lukashenko's regime after its brutal suppression of protests against his rule.

The migrants say they want to get to Germany via Poland and Lukashenko has said that he is ready to send them there by plane if necessary, while accusing Brussels of refusing to negotiate their fate.

Earlier this month, New York based Human Rights Watch called upon the EU and its member states "to work with Poland to immediately ensure humanitarian access to border areas, currently off-limits to those who can help," while urging Poland to put a halt to "unlawful pushbacks of migrants to Belarus, where they will face inhuman and degrading treatment, and instead allow them access to its asylum procedure and decent reception conditions." 

(With wires)

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