Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has called on Germany to take in the migrants stranded on the Belarusian border with Poland.
Lukashenko reassured migrants living at a center near the Polish border on Friday that his government would do not harm them or ban them from reaching Europe, slamming the European Union for failing to meet humanitarian standards by refusing to take them in, according to footage released by state media.
"If anybody wants to go West — that is your right. We will not try to catch you, beat you, and hold you behind barbed wire," Lukashenko said, adding, "We will work with you to achieve your dream."
As most of the hundreds in the center are hoping to reach Germany, Lukashenko called on the German nation to welcome them.
"Please take these people in! This number is not very big. They want to live in Germany — 2,000 people is not a big problem for Germany," he said.
The crisis escalated earlier this month when hundreds of the asylum seekers tried to enter Poland illegally but were pushed back by Polish security forces.
Some 2,000, including many women and children, set up a makeshift camp on the border in freezing conditions. But the camp was evacuated last week by Belarusian border guards, and the migrants, mainly Kurds from Iraq, moved to a nearby logistics center.
Lukashenko said that nearly 150 people were still "wandering" around the border, adding that there were up to another 3,000 migrants in the country outside the logistics center. He also warned that, "If we don't solve the migrant problem now, it will get a lot worse."
According to aid agencies, at least 11 asylum seekers have so far died on both sides of the border since the crisis began.
The European Union claims that Lukashenko has encouraged the migrant flow in retaliation for existing sanctions imposed by the bloc on Belarus, but the Belarusian president has denied the allegation.
The EU imposed new sanctions on the Belarusian government over the migrant crisis.
Amid Poland's refusal to allow the refugees to enter the country, hundreds of Iraqis have voluntarily returned home on repatriation flights. Two more flights to Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdistan region's capital, were expected later on Friday and Saturday, according to Minsk airport.