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Poland says Belarus has changed tactics on migrant crisis

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Migrants queue before receiving meals during the distribution of humanitarian aid on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, Belarus, November 20, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

Poland has accused Belarus of changing tactics in the ongoing migrant crisis, saying it is now directing smaller groups of migrants to multiple points along the European Union’s eastern border to try to cross illegally.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak made the accusation on Saturday, warning that the migrant crisis has not been resolved and it is far from over, a day after Minsk cleared the main camps at the Belarusian-Poland border, in a move which some say could help de-escalate the crisis.

"We have to prepare for the fact that this problem will continue for months. I have no doubt that that will be the case," Blaszczak said. "Now a bit of a new method has been taken on by the migrants and Belarusian services... Smaller groups of people are trying to cross the border in many places."

"There is no question that these attacks are directed by Belarusian services."

For weeks, thousands of migrants have been stranded in freezing temperatures at Belarus’ border with Poland as the latter has closed the frontier and prevented them from crossing over. The migrants, mostly from West Asia, Afghanistan, and Africa, are trying to enter the EU.

Poland has also sent armored vehicles and troops to the border amid an escalation of the crisis. Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko has accused Warsaw of blackmailing his country with the military build-up on the frontier.

The West accuses Belarus of coordinating an unprecedented wave of asylum-seekers in retaliation for existing sanctions imposed by the EU on the country. Lukashenko, however, has denied the allegations, accusing the EU of turning its back on the stranded migrants. 

Countries bordering Belarus have warned that the migrant crisis could escalate into a military confrontation.

Meanwhile, Poland’s border guards have reported new crossing attempts by several groups of migrants. They said there had been 195 attempted illegal crossings on Friday, adding that the largest group consisted of about 200 foreigners, while others each numbered several dozen people. “The foreigners were aggressive – they threw rocks, firecrackers and used tear gas,” the guards tweeted. “Eighty-two foreigners were ordered to leave Polish territory. Two Ukrainian citizens and one German citizen were detained for aiding and abetting.”

Despite the fall in the number of attempts to cross the border, down from 250 on Thursday and 501 the day before, Polish officials say they expect further tensions.

Stanislaw Zaryn, spokesman for Poland's security services, wrote on Twitter that “this political crisis is not coming to an end,” accusing Belarus of still being “interested in escalating and continuing operations against Poland.”

Belarus shares a border with Ukraine in the south. It also borders Poland and Lithuania in the west, Latvia in the north, and Russia in the east.

EU countries bordering Belarus have reported a dramatic increase in the number of irregular migrant crossings since August. According to the latest estimates from last month, over 6,000 migrants tried to enter the bloc via the Belarus-EU border, a sharp rise from last year’s 150.

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