The EU has said it will send 700,000 euros worth of food, blankets and other aid to migrants on the border with Belarus, after it was criticized for doing too little to help thousands of people stranded due to the conflict between the East and Russia. west, writes Reuters.
To resolve what he calls an artificial crisis created by Minsk, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on Wednesday, for the second time in three days, with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, according to Mediafax.
A day after Polish border police used water cannons against stone-throwing migrants, the situation on the border seems to have calmed down. Both Polish and Belarusian border guards said about 2,000 migrants were at the border.
EU Chief Executive Ursula von der Leyen announced the aid, while saying it was up to Lukashenko to end a crisis that Europe believes it has deliberately created.
“We are ready to do more. But the Belarusian regime must stop luring people and endangering their lives,” she said.
The EU claims that Minsk has flown thousands of migrants from the Middle East to push them into the EU bloc illegally, to put pressure on Europe in retaliation for sanctions against Belarus for human rights violations.
Belarus denies provoking the crisis, but says it can only help resolve it if Europe lifts the sanctions imposed by Lukashenko on cracking down on opponents after last year’s contested elections.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told Polish public radio on Wednesday that the border crisis could last for months: “We must be prepared that this situation on the border with Belarus will not be resolved quickly.” he said.
At least eight people have died at the Polish border since the beginning of the crisis this summer. Lithuania and Latvia, neighboring countries, have also seen a sharp increase in attempts to cross Belarus illegally.
Merkel’s telephone conversations with Lukashenko are an unusual sign of direct rapprochement with a leader whom Europe has rejected as illegitimate since last year’s election. In statements after the talks, Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, referred to Lukashenko as Mr Lukashenko, without referring to his title as chairman.
The EU blacklisted Lukashenko and dozens of Belarusian state officials and introduced economic sanctions following the crackdown on last year’s elections. The EU is now extending sanctions on travel agencies and airlines involved in what it calls “human trafficking”, which is behind the border crisis.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) could also stop investment in Belarus, a source told Reuters. The bank currently has 914 million euros in projects in this country.
German police – one of the main destinations for immigrants once they arrive in the EU – said they had registered 9,549 illegal entries from Belarus through Poland this year. In figures showing how suddenly the problem arose, they reported only 26 such cases between January and July, reaching 474 arrivals in August and 5,285 in October.
Preventing uncontrolled immigration has been a central political issue for the bloc since 2015, when more than a million people arrived from the Middle East and Africa, sparking disputes between member states over how to share responsibility for their care.
The EU was caught off guard, its systems were put to the test, and the ensuing chaos triggered an increase in nationalist movements, also helping to support Britain’s exit from the bloc.
Since then, the EU has tightened controls at its external borders and paid for migrants to be housed in countries such as Turkey and to stop them along migration routes from Libya and elsewhere. Human rights groups denounce EU restrictive tactics as aggravating human suffering.