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Poland detains 100 migrants at border, says Belarus helped intruders

Migrants aiming to cross into Poland camp near the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing on the Belarusian-Polish border on November 17, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

The Polish army says it has detained some 100 migrants who had illegally crossed into Poland from Belarus overnight, accusing the Belarusian army of helping them make the intrusion.

In a statement on Thursday, the Polish Defense Ministry alleged that Belarusian forces had first conducted reconnaissance and “most likely” damaged the barbed wire fence along the common border. It claimed that the Belarusian troops then forced another group of migrants to hurl stones at Polish border guards in a bid to distract them as “the attempt to cross the border took place several hundred meters away.”

“A group of about 100 migrants was detained,” the Polish army said, adding that the incident had happened in the vicinity of the village of Dubicze Cerkiewne.

“Belarusian special forces led yesterday’s attack,” the statement alleged.

Minsk has not yet commented on the accusation.

For weeks, thousands of migrants have been stranded at Belarus’ border with Poland as the latter has closed the frontier and prevented them from crossing over. The migrants, mostly from the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Africa, are camped out or staying close to the flashpoint border in dire conditions trying to enter the European Union (EU).

The EU alleges that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is seeking revenge for EU sanctions by inviting “tourists” from countries that are the main sources of migration to the European bloc. Lukashenko has denied the allegation, warning that the growing crisis is dragging Europe into a full-blown military conflict.

The Belarusian leader, whose government says it wants to resolve the crisis, has spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the crisis twice in recent days.

On Wednesday, Lukashenko’s press service said he and the German leader had “agreed that the problem as a whole will be brought up to the level of Belarus and the EU.”

“Relevant officials, to be determined from both sides, will immediately start negotiations to resolve the existing problems,” it added.

At least 11 migrants have lost their lives since the crisis began in the summer, aid groups say, calling for a de-escalation and a humanitarian response to the problem.

According to official figures by Poland, an estimated number of 3,000 to 4,000 migrants are currently along the entire border, with the largest group staying close to the now-closed Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing.

The Belarusian Red Cross says some 1,000 migrants are staying in a warehouse in the vicinity of the shut-down crossing and 800 more are camped nearby.

Minsk has prepared a first repatriation flight for the migrants to Iraq that will have between 200 and 300 people on board. The plane would take off from Minsk at around 1045 GMT on Thursday and will fly first to Erbil and then to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

On Tuesday, Polish forces fired tear gas and water cannon at the crowds of migrants to turn them back from the demarcation line.

Belarus says the EU has turned its back on the desperate migrants who are now stranded in increasingly dire conditions and freezing temperatures. 

Belarus' airline Belavia has also said that Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, and Afghans are banned from incoming flights from the United Arab Emirates at Dubai’s request.

Turkish Airlines has also banned Iraqis, Syrians, and Yemenis from flying to Belarus via Turkey.

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