By Liudas Dapkus | Associated Press
VILNIUS, Lithuania – The Polish leader warned on Sunday of more potential migrant pressure at the European Union’s border with Belarus, this time coming from Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius after talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte about ways to resolve the “very difficult situation” at EU member states’ borders with Belarus. He was on a one-day tour of meetings with the prime ministers of EU member states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, who have also been affected by the migrant pressure.
All leaders stressed the need to act jointly and said the border crisis caused by Belarus has strengthened their cooperation.
The EU says the new wave of migrants on its eastern borders was orchestrated by the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in retaliation for EU sanctions imposed on Belarus after its crackdown on peaceful democracy protesters. It calls the move “a hybrid attack” on the entire bloc of 27 countries. Belarus denies the accusation.
The Polish Border Guard said on Sunday it had prevented a violent illegal entry by some 100 “very aggressive foreigners” on Saturday, who were brought by Belarusian troops to the fenced border near the village of Czeremcha.
Morawiecki said he expected migrant pressure on Poland and the EU to continue, but now from a different region, and claimed to have knowledge of “diplomatic” contacts Belarus and Russia had with Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
“An even more difficult scenario threatens,” Morawiecki said. “There will most likely be an attempt to use the crisis in Afghanistan as another act in the migration crisis, taking advantage of the West’s remorse at the disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
In the Latvian capital Riga, Morawiecki said that “only the full withdrawal of the migrants and steps towards de-escalation can lead to a constructive scenario with Lukashenko.”
Earlier in Estonia’s capital Tallinn, Morawiecki said Poland was ready to help financially return flights home for migrants trapped for weeks in the border’s damp forest. He said Warsaw was also ready to close all border crossings with Belarus to increase economic pressure on Lukashenko’s regime. The Polish level crossing at Kuznica was closed last week.
Lithuanian Simonyte stressed that the EU should coordinate all further actions against Belarus with the countries at the forefront of these attacks – Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
“The European Commission has now taken over the technical discussions with Minsk. It is very important that no decisions are made that will not resolve the situation,” Simonyte told reporters, warning against separate discussions between Poland and Belarus.
Poland is pushing back the migrants, saying it protects the border for all of Europe and NATO. It has received statements of support from the EU, NATO and the US
A few migrants have died in the forests on either side of the border. Others have given up hope of reaching Europe and flew back to their home countries last week.
Poland’s Tatar community in the eastern village of Bohoniki held a third funeral for a migrant on Sunday, burying 37-year-old Yemeni Mustafa Mouhamad Murshid al-Raimi, who was found in the forest on September 19 with hypothermia.
The European Commission made further allegations against Lukashenko on Sunday.
“During the crisis, Lukashenko behaved like an unlicensed tour operator who sold expensive travel packages to the EU, but which collapsed on arrival,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. “Families and children were misled and lured into a tragedy that meant much suffering,”
The Polish Border Guard says it has registered more than 34,000 attempts to illegally enter Poland this year, including more than 17,000 in October and more than 6,000 in November so far. Germany has registered a few thousand who have reached its territory from Belarus.
Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Jari Tanner in Tallinn and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed.
Follow all AP stories about global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.