Poland and Lithuania have called on European institutions to help them deal with a surge in migrants crossing over their borders from Belarus, as tensions between European Union countries and Minsk continue to grow.
Polish and Lithuanian authorities have accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants to put pressure on the EU to reverse sanctions on the country. They have also suggested Lukashenko is exploiting the crisis as a way of hitting back at Poland for giving refuge to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics.
Polish deputy interior minister Maciej Wasik said on Thursday that Minsk was “waging a hybrid war with the European Union with the help of illegal immigrants.”
The Polish Border Guard said in a statement on Monday it had detained 349 illegal migrants crossing the Belarus border since Friday. It said the migrants were probably from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said border forces had detained a record number of migrants since Friday.
“We condemn the weaponization of irregular migration by the Lukashenko regime with a goal of exerting political pressure on the EU and its individual Member States,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said in a joint statement.
In recent weeks, neighbour and fellow EU member state Lithuania has reported a surge in illegal border crossings from Belarus. The country has charged Minsk with flying in migrants from abroad and dispatching them into the EU.
On Friday, Poland and Lithuania called on European institutions to help them deal with migration. European Union home affairs ministers will discuss the issue at an extraordinary meeting on August 18.
Representatives of the EU border agency Frontex and Europol will also take part in the video conference, according to a letter by Slovenia to EU diplomats.
“With the situation at the Lithuanian-Belarus border, the EU has come under a serious security threat and is a witness of state-sponsored weaponization of illegal migration in Belarus,” the letter read.
Slovenia pressed for action, saying one aim of the meeting was to agree on measures to safeguard this part of the EU’s external border and to continue to support Lithuania.
The European Union summoned the Belarusian envoy in Brussels on Wednesday and held talks with the Iraqi government after accusing Belarus of using Iraqi migrants as a political weapon against EU sanctions.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other EU officials have also sought a solution with the Iraqi government which could include a suspension of flights from Baghdad to Minsk.