Belarus removes migrants from border camp, Poland says

A Polish government official said on Wednesday that migrants who had spent days in a makeshift camp on the Belarusian side of Poland’s eastern border were taken away by bus by Belarusian officials, raising the prospect of a possible de-escalation in a tense stalemate.

Maciej Wasik, a Polish deputy interior minister, said he had received information that migrants were getting on buses from Belarus and leaving the area.

The Polish Border Guard posted a video on Twitter showing migrants carrying bags and backpacks being led away from the border by Belarusian troops.

However, Border Guard spokesman Anna Michalska said some migrants have taken wooden logs with them, raising the question of whether they can be moved elsewhere along the border.

A large group of people from the Middle East have been stuck at a border crossing with Poland since November 8, waiting and hoping to enter Europe. Most are fleeing conflict or despair at home and striving to reach Germany or other Western European countries.

Tensions mounted on Tuesday when Polish troops at the border used water cannons and tear gas against migrants who threw stones. Warsaw accused the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of giving smoke grenades and other weapons to those trying to cross the border.

But on Wednesday, Polish authorities said the situation had calmed down, and while they recorded 161 attempts to illegally cross the Polish border, the large migrant camp near the Kuznica border crossing – which is now closed – had fewer people.

“The camp near Kuznica is slowly emptying,” said Polish Deputy Interior Minister Wasik.

It was not clear where they were being taken, and the information provided by officials is difficult to verify due to the restrictions journalists face when working on both sides of the border. A state of emergency in Poland keeps journalists, human rights workers and others away from the border along a zone that is 3 kilometers deep.

Flights to Iraq

Iraq has called on its citizens to fly home and tell them the road to the EU is closed. The first flights are scheduled for Thursday.

Belarus’ state news agency Belta reported that migrants were given shelter in a logistics center on the border, giving them the opportunity after many days to sleep inside instead of in tents outside.

The West has accused Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns to destabilize the bloc of 27 countries in retaliation for sanctions against his authoritarian regime. Belarus denies orchestrating the crisis.

Meanwhile, a Polish press organization said people in Polish army uniforms on Tuesday handcuffed and beat three photojournalists working on Polish territory but outside the no-entry emergency zone.

Press Club Polska posted photos of bruises left by the handcuffs on the wrists of two of the photojournalists.

Poland’s Defense Ministry denied that force was used, but said troops have the right to intervene when they see fit at a time of high tension in the area. It said the photojournalists were masked and had no signs of being media representatives.

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