This content is not available in your region

EU urged to stand firm against 'desperate and illegitimate' Belarus

Access to the comments Comments
By Euronews
euronews_icons_loading
Commissioner Johansson said the EU should focus on stopping people from arriving at Minsk airport.
Commissioner Johansson said the EU should focus on stopping people from arriving at Minsk airport.   -   Copyright  Stephanie Lecocq/AP

The European Union must be "firm and united" against the "desperate and illegitimate" administration of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his continued attempts to destabilise the bloc, Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for home affairs, told Euronews.

Her comments follow a surge of attempted illegal crossings on Monday at the Poland-Belarus border, with hundreds of migrants arriving overnight. The incident has led to international condemnation from the EU, US and NATO and renewed threats of sanctions.

Brussels believes the Belarusian regime is encouraging migrants from countries such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Cameroon to board flights to Minsk, where they are given visas and accommodation and then told to head towards the Polish border.

"This is a situation where the European Union has to act firm and united towards Lukashenko," Johansson told Euronews. "This is not primarily a migration crisis. This is an aggression from a desperate, illegitimate regime. And our response has to be according to that."

More than 30,000 migrants have tried to cross the Poland-Belarus border this year. More than 15,000 crossings were registered in October alone.

Lithuania and Latvia, which also have borders with Belarus, have been affected too.

The crisis has been described as Lukashenko's revenge against the multiple rafts of EU sanctions imposed on Belarus, which comprise 166 individuals and 15 companies. They were initiated following the crackdown on dissent in the country, following protests in the aftermath of Belarus' disputed presidential election.

"Belarus is not a country under any migratory pressure at all. It's a country people flee from, not to," Johansson said.

"This situation has been created by Lukashenko. People are paying a lot of money to be escorted by people in military clothes to the EU’s external borders. And when they come there, these Belarusian people and border guards, they change their attitude and [start] being aggressive and trapping people there. This is a totally unacceptable way of treating people."

For Johansson, the most urgent priority is to stop the arrivals at Minsk airport. The European Commission has already floated the possibility of sanctioning non-EU airlines that are believed to be involved in human trafficking.

Although Johansson refused to name specific carriers, state-owned Belavia is seen as the main enabler.

"We have to do our utmost to stop more people from being lured into this situation," Johansson said.

"They [migrants] are spending a lot of money and they are being told that this is a safe and easy way to get to the European Union. This is not true. And then they find themselves trapped in a potentially very dangerous and freezing situation."

Ten migrants have died while being left stranded at the Belarus-Poland border, an area that reaches sub-zero temperatures. The deteriorating situation has raised concerns over human rights abuses and humanitarian aid. Warsaw allows only very limited access to the zone.

Asked about claims that Polish authorities are pushing back migrants, a practice illegal under international law, Johansson was noncommittal and simply said EU countries should "uphold our values" and legal rules.

The Commissioner was also evasive when asked about the possibility of funding barbed wires and fences under the EU budget. Brussels has maintained a longstanding refusal to bankroll this kind of apparatus, but the border crisis, which has been going on since the early summer, has renewed calls for EU-funded border barriers.

"We don't understand why the EU cannot finance a fence at the Belarus border. There is a hybrid war going on, we should not be naïve," said Manfred Weber, the leader of the centre-right European People's Party, last month.

Johansson insisted that Poland allow the entrance of agents from EU agencies, including the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), which is headquartered in the Polish capital. The government continues to refuse their access.

"It would be good to actually show that by having also the European presence," Johansson said.

"I think it's a problem with the lack of transparency at the border, and I think that the trust would be bigger and increase if we also had the presence of Frontex and Europol at the border."