Belarus bringing hundreds in trucks to cross into EU: Poland

Despite diplomatic attempts to ease the crisis, Warsaw says it has detained more people who tried to enter the EU overnight.

Aid groups have said at least 11 asylum seekers and refugees have died on both sides of the Poland-Belarus border since the migration crisis began earlier this year [Kacper Pempel/Reuters]

Hundreds of migrants and refugees attempted to cross from Belarus into Poland overnight as the situation at the border remains tense, despite a diplomatic push to resolve the crisis.

Polish Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said on Friday that a group of 500 people had tried to enter the European Union member state on Thursday evening, aided by Belarusian authorities who had earlier cleared the main camps at the border.

“[The Belarusians] were bringing more migrants to the place where there was a forced attempt to cross,” Michalska said.

“At the start, there were 100 people, but then the Belarusian side brought more people in trucks. Then there were 500 people.”

Michalska told the AFP news agency that Poland detained 45 people, claiming that members of the group had thrown rocks and hurled tear gas shells at Polish officials while Belarusian security forces used lasers to blind them.

Al Jazeera, like all other media, is unable to independently verify claims about activity on the border as Poland has banned reporters from accessing the 3km (2 miles)-wide zone.

The latest crossings and detentions came after Belarus moved people along the border to a nearby reception centre and followed the first Iraqi repatriation flight which returned hundreds to Erbil and Baghdad. These developments had appeared to signal a change of tack by Minsk that could help calm a crisis that has spiralled in recent weeks into a serious East-West confrontation.

Poland and its allies accuse Belarus of deliberately enticing thousands of migrants and refugees, many of whom are from the Middle East, and funnelling them to the country’s frontier with Poland in response to Western sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.

Minsk, backed by Russia, denies that and has accused Polish security forces of carrying out crimes against humanity while repelling people trying to enter the EU.

‘Pawns in a political game’

Aid groups say at least 11 asylum seekers and refugees have died on both sides of the border since the crisis began earlier this year – although the real number is believed to be higher – as concerns grow for people’s wellbeing as freezing winter conditions set in.

But in recent days, a flurry of diplomatic activity seemingly aimed to improve the situation.

This week, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by telephone twice to Lukashenko, normally shunned by European leaders.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko held another phone call about the crisis and stressed the importance of cooperation between Minsk and the EU,  the Kremlin said.

Those efforts are yet to achieve a resolution, however.

On Thursday, the European Commission and Germany rejected a proposal by Minsk, under which the EU would take in 2,000 migrants and refugees now in Belarus, and 5,000 others would be sent back to their home countries.

Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from the Polish border town Hajnowka, said those still stranded in Belarus, many of whom appear reluctant to turn back, were “just pawns … in a much larger political game taking place”.

Since the beginning of the year, Poland’s border guard service says it has recorded more than 34,000 attempted crossings from Belarus, including more than 6,000 so far in November, nearly 17,300 in October, close to 7,700 in September and more than 3,500 in August, when the crisis started.

While there has been a decline over the last month, Michalska told AFP the “latest attempts have become more aggressive”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies