By Alexandra Brzozowski
(EurActiv) — The European Commission accused Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday (9 November) of an ‘inhuman, gangster-style approach’ in luring migrants under the false promise of easy entry into the EU.
“Upon arrival, they are being pushed to the border and forced to make an illegal entry into the EU,” the EU’s lead foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano told reporters in Brussels.
Around 2,000 migrants were camped out near the Belarusian border with Poland in freezing overnight temperatures as Polish authorities braced for further clashes with people attempting to breach the frontier.
Stano confirmed the European Commission is monitoring flights to Belarus from two dozen countries in an attempt to prevent more migrants from being encouraged to travel to the bloc’s border by the government in Minsk.
“We are looking at the frequency of flights, we are looking at the pattern of flights – how many flights go out, how many flights go back, what’s the occupancy of the planes,” Stano told reporters.
This would include airline travel from countries such as Morocco, Syria, Iran, Qatar, South Africa, Somalia, India, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Russia, Azerbaijan, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Yemen.
Afghanistan is not being looked at too closely in regard to departing flights as it is not among countries where there are direct flights to Minsk.
The comments come as several media reports suggested that Belarus is preparing to handle roughly 40 weekly flights from Istanbul, Damascus, and Dubai by March.
The EU is currently looking to extend sanctions and include “third-country airlines” involved in flying migrants to Belarus, which could happen as soon as when EU foreign affairs ministers meet in Brussels next week.
Stano added that the EU was working towards a fifth set of sanctions on Lukashenko’s regime, saying: “We are trying to explore all the possible means we have at our disposal to deal with the situation.”
This would primarily target Belarusian national carrier Belavia.
Lithuania has additionally floated the idea of including airports in Belarus and their personnel in the next package.
Asked about Russia’s potential involvement in the crisis, Stano replied the European Commission was “very closely” monitoring the situation in that country.
“It is on our radar, and we will evaluate the information and data we have in light of the flight situation and Russia’s possible involvement in this matter,” he noted.
Partial visa suspension
On Tuesday, EU countries also partially suspended a visa facilitation deal for Belarusian officials in response to Minsk’s actions.
“This decision is a response to the ongoing hybrid attack launched by the Belarusian regime,” said a statement from the European Council, which represents the bloc’s member states.
It, however, specified that the move would affect Belarusian officials rather than complicate existing visa procedures for ordinary citizens.