Poland PM to Hold Talks in Europe on Belarus Border Crisis

WARSAW (AP) -
Estonian army reservist drives a quadricycle past a temporary razor wire fence on a border with Russia during a snap military exercise Okas 2021, near Meremae, Estonia, Nov. 20. (REUTERS/Ints Kalnins)

Poland’s leader plans to hold a series of talks around Europe about the pressure of migrants on the European Union’s border with Belarus, a crisis that he expects will continue.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he was meeting Sunday with his counterparts from EU members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which have also been hit by the migrant pressure from Belarus. Next week he will travel to some other European countries, which he did not name Saturday.

Morawiecki said that the border crisis with Belarus is a “very serious geopolitical situation” and requires a lot of diplomatic effort, as many migrants from the Mideast still remain in Belarus and keep trying to force their way into EU member Poland. On Friday night, some migrants threw stones and used tear gas against Polish border guards and police, according to Poland’s Border Guard.

“This is why I set out on a journey to some European countries, to talk about the international crisis provoked by the actions of (Belarusian President) Alexander Lukashenko,” Morawiecki said Saturday. “Unfortunately, there are numerous signs suggesting that this geopolitical crisis will be continued for many months, even years.”

The European Union has accused Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns to destabilize the bloc in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian regime. Belarus denies engineering the crisis.

Poland is pushing the migrants back, saying it is protecting the border for all of Europe. It has received support from the EU, NATO and the U.S.

A few migrants have died in the damp forests straddling the border. Others have abandoned hopes of reaching Europe and were flown back to their home countries this week.

Humanitarian organizations and Poland’s influential Roman Catholic Church have been pressing to be allowed to bring aid to the stranded migrants, and NGOs in Poland have organized charity collections.

A few hundred people with banners and gold-and-silver hypothermia blankets marched Saturday in Warsaw in support of the migrants. Their banners read “We Welcome the Refugees, NO to Racism,” and “Enough of Cruelty, Accept the Refugees.”

“This is an act of solidarity with people stuck for weeks in the deadly trap between Poland and Belarus,” the organizers said.

Close to the border with Belarus, in Hajnowka, the Mothers to the Border group held a rally calling for the admission of the migrants and humanitarian aid, especially for families with children in the forest in freezing temperatures.

“The Forest is No Place for the Children,” their banners read.

The U.N. refugee agency says about half the migrants at the Poland-Belarus border area were women and children. Some 2,000 migrants were said to be trapped there this week.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said aid should be primarily offered to potential migrants in their home countries.

“Let’s not draw these people here, let’s help them in the places where they come from,” Blaszczak said.