The European Commission has accused Belarus’s authoritarian leader of luring migrants with the false promise of easy entry to the European Union (EU), as part of an “inhumane, gangster-style approach”.
At least 2,000 migrants are now at the Belarus border with Poland.
“Upon arrival, they are being pushed to the border and forced to make an illegal entry into the European Union,” said Commission spokesman, Peter Stano.
Belarus’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, denies orchestrating the problem.
EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) members, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, have all seen a surge in the number of people trying to enter their countries illegally from Belarus in recent months. Many are young men but they include women and children, largely from the Middle East and Asia.
Poland has seen the most arrivals, especially around its major border crossing at Kuznica.
Migrants have described how Belarusian authorities seized their phones and pushed them towards the border fence. Overnight temperatures at the border have slumped below zero and several people have already died in recent weeks.
“Nobody is letting us get in anywhere, Belarus or Poland,”a 33-year-old Shwan Kurd from Iraq told the BBC by video-call.
He described how he had arrived in Minsk from Baghdad, at the start of November, and was now in a make-shift camp metres from Poland’s barbed-wire fence.
“There’s no way to escape,” he said. “Poland won’t let us in. Every night they fly helicopters. They don’t let us sleep. We are so hungry. There’s no water or food here. There are little children, old men and women, and families.”
Poland has deployed extra troops after desperate crowds who tried to cut the border fence on Monday. The border guard said more than 300 attempts had been made to cross illegally. The government warned of a possible “armed” escalation on its border with Belarus, fearing its neighbour might try to provoke an incident.
The head of Poland’s national security department, Stanislaw Zaryn, said the migrants were under the control of Belarusian armed units.
The EU, NATO and the US all say Belarus is orchestrating the problem. -BBC