Warsaw – European Union (EU) sanctions against Belarus over the migrant crisis on the Polish border are ‘hopeless’ and ‘counter-productive’, Minsk said on Sunday.
The comments by Belarus’s Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell came in the first high-level contact between Brussels and Minsk since the crisis that the West blames on the authoritarian country.
Thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, are camped out on the EU-Belarus border, in a crisis that Brussels blames on the regime of Alexander Lukashenko.
Borrell earlier said that Brussels would expand its sanctions on Monday to include anyone ‘taking part in the trafficking of migrants’ in Belarus, including airlines, travel agencies and officials.
According to the statement, Makei informed Borrell of ‘steps taken by Belarus to reduce the flow of migrants from Asia, Africa and Middle East’.
The pair also discussed working with UN-led organisations on getting aid to the hundreds of migrants stuck in freezing temperatures on the border, Minsk said.
In a tweet, Borrell said he had raised the ‘precarious humanitarian situation at the border with the EU’ with Makei.
“People’s lives must be protected and humanitarian agencies allowed access,” Borrell said.
“The current situation is unacceptable and must stop. People should not be used as weapons,” he added.
Dozens of migrants have been detained after crossing into Poland from Belarus, Warsaw said on Sunday, warning of a possible larger breakthrough ahead of an EU meeting to widen sanctions on Belarus.
Polish authorities have created an emergency zone at the border.
Western countries accuse Lukashenko’s regime of engineering the crisis by encouraging migrants to come to Belarus and then taking them to the border.
Minsk denies the charges and blames the West.
Dozens of migrants have been detained after crossing into Poland from Belarus, Warsaw said on Sunday.
Police said on Twitter that 50 migrants had crossed the heavily guarded EU and NATO border near the village of Starzyna ‘by force’ on Saturday.
They were all later detained, the border guard said, adding that they could see signs across the barbed wire on the Belarusian side of ‘a bigger attempt at crossing the border today’.
Aid agencies say at least 10 migrants have died so far and have warned of a humanitarian crisis unfolding as temperatures drop below freezing, urging a de-escalation to help the migrants.
In the biggest camp, near the village of Bruzgi in Belarus, Belarusian authorities say there are 2,000 people, including pregnant women and children.
Belarusian authorities have delivered aid including tents and heaters – a move that could make the camp a semi-permanent presence on the EU’s eastern border.
Poland has refused to allow the migrants in and has accused Belarus of preventing them from leaving.
Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski on Saturday said a rumour was being spread among the migrants that on Monday Poland would allow them through and coaches would come from Germany to pick them up.
“A provocation is being prepared,” Kaminski said.
The government has sent a text message to all foreign mobile phones along the border saying: ‘It’s a total lie and nonsense! Poland will continue to protect its border with Belarus. Those who spread such rumours seek to encourage the migrants to storm the border,’ the text message reads.