Saturday. 20.04.2024

The crisis at the border between Belarus and Poland showed no signs of abating on Tuesday, with accusations between the two sides flying while many hundreds of migrants without shelter remained trapped in freezing temperatures in what is effectively a no-man's land.

Belarus has said it will no longer stop migrants who reach its territory from crisis regions from continuing on to Poland, and trying to cross into the European Union.

For months, the EU has accused Minsk of abetting migrants trying to reach the bloc's external borders in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania - even flying in asylum seekers from crises regions - in retaliation to Western sanctions on Belarus for political repression.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki visited the border near Kuznica early on Tuesday morning, and thanked soldiers there for carrying out a "difficult task."

Poland has sent hundreds of reinforcements to the border in recent weeks, and erected a barbed wire border fence in an effort to stop any attempts by migrants to break through. There is currently a state of emergency on the border area which outlaws border crossings.

Journalists and NGOs are not being allowed access to the area.

On Monday, Belarusian authorities said that many hundreds more migrants had arrived at the border. Poland has put the total number at between 3,000 and 4,000.

Freezing temperatures

Warsaw reported that some had already tried to break through, with the Defence Ministry posting a video of the incident on its Twitter feed on Monday.

The temperature in the region hovered around freezing overnight, and many of the migrant groups had lit fires to keep themselves warm.

The Belarus Foreign Ministry on Tuesday warned Poland "not to use any provocations directed against the Republic of Belarus to justify possible illegal military actions against disadvantaged unarmed people."

Belarus security forces were also on their way to the border area where the migrants had gathered, the Polish Defence Ministry said, showing a video of a line of marching uniformed men in the woods close to the border.

The European Union said on Tuesday it would suspend a visa deal with Belarus for government officials but not for ordinary citizens in response to what it called the "instrumentalization" of migrants.

"It is unacceptable for Belarus to play with people's lives for political purposes," Slovenian Interior Minister Ales Hojs said in a statement sent out by the Council of the EU, which represents the 27 member states.

Visa agreement

The visa facilitation agreement - introduced shortly before the August 2020 Belarus elections the EU said were neither free nor fair - reduces paperwork requirement and application fees and regulates multiple-entry visas.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he had spoken to Polish President Andrzej Duda about the situation.

"Belarus using migrants as a hybrid tactic is unacceptable," Stoltenberg tweeted, referring to the blending of non-military and military tactics as a means of destabilizing target countries.

"NATO stands in solidarity and all our allies in the region," he wrote.

Belarus warns against 'provocations' as EU border crisis intensifies