President Alexander Lukashenko has said Belarus seeks no confrontation with Poland but wants European powers to work with Minsk to resolve the migration crisis along his country’s border with Poland, adding that if the crisis deteriorated “too far, war is unavoidable”.
Belarus’s BELTA state news agency quoted Lukashenko on Monday as saying that he did not want the situation to escalate after weeks of tension at the frontier, where Polish security forces have blocked migrants and refugees intent on crossing into the European Union from entering the bloc.
“We need to get through to the Poles, to every Pole, and show them that we’re not barbarians, that we don’t want confrontation. We don’t need it. Because we understand that if we go too far, war is unavoidable,” Lukashenko said.
“And that will be a catastrophe. We understand this perfectly well. We don’t want any kind of flare-up.”
Minsk’s plan for resolving crisis rejected
Poland and its Western allies have accused Minsk of fomenting the migration crisis.
They say it has enticed thousands of people, mainly from the Middle East, into Belarus and then funnelled them to the EU via Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in response to sanctions imposed on Lukashenko’s government by the bloc over alleged human rights abuses following a disputed August 2020 election that handed him a sixth term in office.
The 67 year old denies those allegations and has said his government cannot help resolve the situation unless the EU’s penalties are lifted.
Last week, Lukashenko put forward a plan to end the crisis, under which EU member state Germany would take in 2,000 migrants and refugees now in Belarus and 5,000 others would be sent back to their home countries.
But that proposal has been roundly rejected by Berlin and the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission.
“The idea of having a humanitarian corridor to Germany for 2,000 migrants is not a solution that is acceptable to Germany or the EU,” a spokesperson for Germany’s government said on Monday.
‘Increasingly dire’ conditions
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from the village of Bruzgi, near Belarus’s border with Poland, said Lukashenko was now ramping up his rhetoric against the EU as part of a “last effort” to put pressure on the bloc following its refusal of his proposal.
Meanwhile, she said, conditions along the Belarus-Poland border are becoming “increasingly dire” for the migrants and refugees still stranded there in freezing conditions as winter sets in.
Humanitarian agencies say as many as 13 people have died in the region, where many have suffered in cold, damp forests with little food or water.
Poland has accused Belarusian forces of continuing to ferry migrants and refugees to the frontier, despite Minsk having cleared the main camps along the barbed-wire boundary last week.
Many of the migrants and refugees camped out along the border were placed in a nearby Belarusian warehouse following the clearance operation.