Poland bolsters border with Belarus to stop migrants

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Poland has deployed hundreds of troops along its border with Belarus to stop the arrival of migrants seeking to enter the country.

Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said more than 900 soldiers were involved in the operation, adding that barbed wire was also being laid along Polish boundaries.

The minister added that the wire now ran for nearly 100 kilometers of Poland’s 418-kilometre border with Belarus, with another 50 kilometres to be installed soon.

The European Union held emergency talks on Wednesday in response to allegations that Minsk is deliberately facilitating migration into the bloc.

Poland, like the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, has accused the authoritarian government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of sending migrants across their borders.

In a videoconference, EU ministers condemned what it called Belarus’s “aggressive behaviour”.

“This is unacceptable and amounts to a direct attack aimed at destabilising and pressurising the EU,” said a statement by Slovenia, which holds the bloc’s rotating presidency.

Slovenia said EU nations are “determined to take all necessary measures to effectively protect all the EU external borders, by counteracting Belarus’ aggression.”

Brussels has said that the increase in migration is retaliation to EU sanctions imposed on Belarus following Lukashenko’s disputed re-election last year and harsh repressions on opposition protesters.

It’s believed that most of the migrants trying to cross over from Belarus are originally from Iraq, with some from Afghanistan and Syria as well.

On Wednesday, Poland’s Defense Ministry said that 2,100 people have tried to illegally cross the border so far this month.

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Border guards have prevented 1,342 from entering Poland and 758 “were detained and imprisoned in closed centres.”

“The government’s priority is the safety of Polish citizens,” the ministry said in a statement, ahead of potential legislation which could address the migrant influx.

Opposition lawmakers have called on the Polish government to ensure those trying to enter the country were given humane treatment.

More than 4,100 migrants have also arrived in Lithuania so far this year and are being sheltered in temporary camps across the country.

After talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, EU Parliament President David Sassoli accused Lukashenko of “exploiting these poor people, men and women.”

“I have seen these outrageous actions when officials push people across the border. It is both an issue of human rights, and also a question of protecting the border of the EU,” Sassoli said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she will raise the issue of migration from Belarus with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday.

Belarus depends heavily on Russian energy supplies and Moscow has authorised loans to prop up the country’s beleaguered economy.

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