EU prepares to sanction “human trafficking” following Belarus border crisis

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EU and Belarusian foreign policy chiefs spoke directly about the migrant crisis for the first time on Sunday, even as Brussels prepares to impose sweeping new sanctions for human trafficking which Minsk says , would be futile and “counterproductive”.

EU and Belarusian foreign policy chiefs spoke directly about the migrant crisis for the first time on Sunday, even as Brussels prepares to impose sweeping new sanctions for human trafficking which Minsk says , would be futile and “counterproductive”.

Josep Borrell said he spoke by telephone with Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei about the “precarious humanitarian situation” on the border between Belarus and Poland, the eastern border of the EU.

“The current situation is unacceptable and must end. People should not be used as weapons,” Borrell said in a tweet.

In Belarusian statement about the conversation, Makei said any sanction would be “hopeless” and “counterproductive”.

Tensions high at Poland-Belarus border as migrants endure freezing cold

Thousands of Middle Eastern migrants are camped on the EU-Belarus border, creating an impasse between the EU and the US on one side and Belarus and its ally Russia on the other.

Western countries accuse the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of having organized the crisis by encouraging migrants to come to Belarus and then taking them to the border since the summer.

Belarus denies the accusations and blames the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also dismissed accusations of involvement in the crisis and urged the EU to speak directly to Belarus.

Detained migrants

Poland said earlier on Sunday that dozens of migrants had been arrested after passing through Belarus and warned of a possible larger breakthrough.

Local police said on Twitter that 50 migrants crossed the heavily guarded border near the village of Starzyna “by force” on Saturday.

Aid agencies say at least 10 migrants have died at the border so far and have warned of a humanitarian crisis unfolding as temperatures drop below zero, urging a de-escalation.

But Medycy na Granicy (Doctors at the Border), a Polish charity, said it was suspending operations on Sunday after five cars used by its team were destroyed by unknown assailants.

The work of the association has already been hampered.

Last week, someone let air escape the tires of his ambulance while helping migrants.

On the Belarusian side, officials said there were 2,000 migrants, including pregnant women and children, in the larger camp near the village of Bruzgi.

Belarusian authorities have provided aid, including tents and heaters, a move that could make the camp a semi-permanent presence at the EU border.

Poland refused to allow migrants to enter and accused Belarus of preventing them from leaving.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said on Saturday that a rumor was circulating among migrants that Poland would allow them to pass on Monday and that coaches would come from Germany to pick them up.

The government texted all foreign cell phones along the border saying it was “total lie and nonsense”.

“Those who spread such rumors seek to encourage migrants to storm the border,” read the post.

“Lukashenko was wrong”

EU foreign ministers are also due to meet on Monday to expand sanctions already imposed on Belarus for its crackdown on opponents of Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for nearly 30 years.

Borrell said ministers would approve sanctions against anyone involved in smuggling migrants, including airlines, travel agencies and officials.

“Lukashenko was wrong. He thought that by doing so, he would twist our arm and force us to cancel the sanctions. The opposite is happening,” he told the Journal du Dimanche, a French weekly.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said one of the measures envisaged was “the complete closure of the border to cut the regime off from any economic benefit”.

Speaking to Polish news agency PAP, Morawiecki also said that the entire EU “should jointly contribute” to a Polish project to build a wall along the border.

One of the routes the migrants took were flights from Turkey and Syria.

Following pressure from EU diplomats, Turkey has now banned Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis from visiting Belarus.

The private Syrian airline Cham Wings Airlines has also announced the stop of flights to Minsk.

(AFP)

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