EU to widen Belarus sanctions …as border row grows

The European Union (EU) will step up sanctions against Belarus and those closest to its leader in response to an escalating migrant crisis at its border with Poland, officials say.

The sanctions could target anyone involved in trafficking migrants through Belarus, the EU officials said.

The EU has accused Belarus of pushing migrants towards its eastern borders to undermine security, a charge it denies.

On Monday, hundreds of migrants were blocked at a crossing by Polish troops.

A video filmed at the border by the BBC showed migrants sitting down on a road in front of barbed wire and Polish forces in a tense stand-off.

Those migrants came from a large makeshift camp at the Kuznica crossing, where thousands have settled in tents just inside Belarus. They are trapped between Polish guards on one side and Belarusian guards on the other. They cannot get into Poland, but are also being prevented from retreating back into Belarus, according to Polish authorities.

The Polish border guard said it expected a forced attempt to breach the border, describing the presence of the Belarusian forces in the area as “worrying.”

Since August, thousands of people, mostly from Iraq, Syria and Yemen have amassed at Belarus’s western border with Poland, now enduring freezing conditions in the hope of crossing into the EU.

The EU has accused Belarus of mounting a “hybrid attack” by encouraging thousands of people to cross into Poland and other member states.

Human right groups have said the migrants are being used as “political pawns.”

European officials have accused Belarus’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, of orchestrating a scheme to entice migrants with the false promise of easy entry to the EU.

Mr Lukashenko has repeatedly denied that Belarus is sending migrants over the border in revenge for existing EU sanctions.

Those sanctions were imposed in June following the arrest of an opposition activist on board a Ryanair flight that was flying to Lithuania, but was forced to land in Belarus.

EU-Belarus relations have been severely strained since Mr Lukashenko declared victory in a disputed presidential election last year before crushing dissenting voices.

EU foreign ministers met on Monday in Brussels to discuss the new sanctions. -BBC

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