Poland ‘ready to defend itself’ as Belarus sends thousands of migrants to border

Polish authorities accused Belarus of trying to spark a major confrontation on Monday and said they had mobilised additional soldiers as footage on social media showed hundreds of migrants walking towards the Polish border.

In one video, shared by the Belarusian blogging service NEXTA, migrants carrying rucksacks and wearing winter clothing were seen walking on the side of a highway.

Other videos showed large groups of migrants sitting by the road and being escorted by armed men dressed in khaki.

"Belarus wants to cause a major incident, preferably with shots fired and casualties: according to media reports, they are preparing a major provocation near Kuznica Bialostocka, that there will be an attempt at a mass border crossing," Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk told Polish public radio.

The Polish Ministry of Defense has published the most recent video from a helicopter. It shows that migrants are on the Belarusian side of the border. There are way too many of them. It means that state media in Belarus and Russia lie – migrants hasn't yet left #Belarus pic.twitter.com/vXLUxREjCw

— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) November 8, 2021

The European Union has accused Belarus of encouraging migrants from the Middle East and Africa to cross into EU countries via Belarus, as a form of hybrid warfare in revenge for Western sanctions on Minsk over human rights abuses.

Neighbouring EU member Lithuania announced it was moving additional troops to the border to prepare for a possible surge in migrant crossings. Its government may follow in Poland’s footsteps by declaring a state of emergency.

Just insane videos from the border between Belarus and Poland, where Belarus’ security services seem to have formed up a huge column of migrants and marched them to the border. pic.twitter.com/oFhI6fWQQw

— Patrick Reevell (@Reevellp) November 8, 2021

Poland has stationed more than 12,000 troops at the border, the defence minister said, while sharing aerial footage of migrants clustered on the Belarusian side. Latvia, which shares a border with Belarus, called the situation "alarming".

Exiled Belarusian leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged a strong response from the EU and United Nations.

"Belarus’ regime escalates the border crisis – migrants are pushed to EU border by armed men," she tweeted. "The migrant smuggling, violence & ill-treatment must stop."

#Belarus A video from one of the migrants, in which you can carefully see the armed men who later drove the migrants into the forest towards the border with #Poland. Strong response from the EU is needed. This is major provocation from the regime in Minsk pic.twitter.com/aOmZz0B3zi

— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) November 8, 2021

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government has repeatedly denied manufacturing a migrant crisis, blaming the West for the crossings and treatment of migrants.

The Belarusian state border committee confirmed that many refugees were moving towards the Polish border, and said Warsaw was taking an "inhumane attitude".

The EU, the United States and Britain imposed sanctions on Belarus after Lukashenko unleashed a violent crackdown on mass protests following a disputed election last year.

Lukashenko has defied opposition calls to resign, buttressed by money and diplomatic support from traditional ally Russia. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday defended Minsk’s handling of the migrant issue, saying Belarus was taking all necessary measures to act legally.

Charities say migrants face gruelling conditions trying to cross the border from Belarus in freezing weather with a lack of food and medical attention.

A group of migrants from Yemen are seen in the woods near Grodek, Poland

Credit: Getty Images/AFP

Thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East have crossed or tried to cross from Belarus since the summer

Credit: WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP

Polish authorities said seven migrants have been found dead on Poland’s side of the border, with reports of more deaths in Belarus.

Humanitarian groups accuse Poland’s ruling nationalists of violating the international right to asylum by pushing migrants back into Belarus instead of accepting their applications for protection. Poland says its actions are legal.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Facebook that "the Polish border is not just a line on a map. The border is sacred – Polish blood has been spilled for it!".

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