Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he will not forcibly return migrants who have been stranded at the border with Poland.
During a staged visit to a facility that accommodates migrants, Lukashenko promised food and warm clothing for those who wanted to stay in the area.
“My task is to help you, people in trouble,” Lukashenko said, addressing thousands of migrants at the makeshift Bruzgi warehouse.
“In no case will we detain you, tie your hands, load you on aeroplanes and send you home if you don’t want that.”
“We will work together with you on your dream,” the Belarusian President added.
Hundreds of migrants — mostly from the Middle East — have been trapped at the Belarus-Poland border for more than three weeks while trying to reach the European Union.
Lukashenko said on Friday that about 200 migrants still manage to illegally enter the EU every day.
The West has accused Lukashenko of luring the migrants to Belarus, promising to help them reach Western Europe. Belarus has denied EU accusations that it has facilitated illegal migration in an effort to destabilise the bloc.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert has also strongly denied claims by Minsk that Germany had agreed to take in 2,000 migrants currently in Belarus.
“It’s not true that Germany agrees to this,” he told reporters in Berlin.
Over 170 people returned to Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region on Friday with two more return flights expected later in the day. Last week, another 430 Iraqis returned home after a failed attempt to reach the EU.
At least 11 migrants are known to have died at the border between Belarus and Poland since the start of the crisis.
Meanwhile, Poland’s Border Guard said a group of migrants started a riot in a detention centre on Thursday, demanding better conditions.
“There was what I think it should be called a rebellion,” said Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik.
Wasik said about 600 people were in the centre, but the situation was quickly put under control by the authorities.
The Border Guard also said that 217 people tried to cross Poland’s border illegally from Belarus on Thursday.