Poland detains refugees, increases troops at Belarusian border

Hundreds of migrants camp at the Belarus side of the border with Poland near Kuznica Bialostocka, Poland, in this photograph released by the Polish Defence Ministry, November 10, 2021. MON/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY

Poland has detained hundreds more migrants and refugees who attempted to enter the country from Belarus overnight and deployed 3,000 more soldiers to strengthen the border security.

Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told broadcaster PR1 on Wednesday that it was “not a calm night”, as he reported “many attempts to breach the Polish border”.

Some tried to break through a barbed-wire fence using spades and other tools but were repelled by Polish security forces.

Crowds of people have gathered in subzero temperatures near the Belarus-Poland frontier in recent days hoping to cross into the European Union nation, prompting flashbacks of the 2015 refugee crisis.

The months-long border crisis came to a head-on Monday when hundreds in Belarus headed towards the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing.

Polish radio station RMF said about 200 people tried to breach the border on Tuesday afternoon, and the second group of 60 people made an attempt after midnight.

Blaszczak said all who attempted to cross were detained, and that the force of Polish soldiers stationed in the area had been strengthened to 15,000 from 12,000.

Hundreds are camped along the border, a fraction of the estimated 4,000 migrants and refugees gathered in areas near the frontier, including nearby forests.

EU slams Minsk’s ‘gangster-style’ tactics

Poland and other EU states accuse Belarus of encouraging the migrants and refugees – who are mostly from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa – to cross in revenge for Western sanctions on Minsk over President Alexander Lukashenko’s crackdown on dissent after last year’s disputed election.

EU diplomats told Reuters news agency on Tuesday that the bloc was close to imposing more sanctions on Belarus over the escalating crisis, targeting about 30 individuals and entities, including the Belarusian foreign minister.

The EU earlier on Tuesday accused Lukashenko of using “gangster-style” tactics in the standoff, in which at least seven people have died amid warnings from human rights groups that they face freezing conditions and a lack of food and medical attention.

Lukashenko’s government, which is backed by Russia, denies engineering the migrant crisis and blames European powers and the United States for the plight of the people stranded at the border.

On Wednesday, the Belarusian border guard service accused Warsaw of illegally pushing back migrants and refugees.

Belarus’s foreign minister on Wednesday accused the EU of “provoking” a migrant standoff on its border with Poland and said Minsk was seeking a “joint response” to the crisis with Russia.

“The migrant crisis was provoked by the EU itself and its states that border Belarus,” Vladimir Makei said on a visit to Moscow.

Polish PM says Putin ‘mastermind’ of crisis

The Kremlin on Wednesday blamed the crisis on the EU, saying the bloc has failed to uphold its own humanitarian values and was trying to “strangle” Belarus with plans to close part of the border.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said that comments by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – who has blamed Moscow for the border crisis – were unacceptable.

Morawiecki on Tuesday charged Russian President Vladimir Putin with orchestrating the crisis, which he said threatened to destabilise the 27-member EU.

“This attack which Lukashenko is conducting has its mastermind in Moscow, the mastermind is President Putin,” Morawiecki told the Polish Parliament on Tuesday, after visiting security forces along the border.

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