Polish forces turn water cannon on migrants at Belarusian border

Lukashenko to hold second call with Merkel amid migrant crisis

Poland's security services have used water cannons on migrants, footage shared by Polish officials shows, after they threw rocks at them from across the border with Belarus. Video: Reuters

 

Polish security forces turned water cannon on migrants who threw rocks across the Belarusian border, where thousands have gathered in a chaotic attempt to reach the European Union, video footage shared by authorities showed on Tuesday.

The crisis has led the EU to prepare further sanctions against Belarus, which it accuses of attempting to destabilise the bloc by pushing migrants across the border illegally.

Footage shared by a Polish government spokesperson and the ministry of defence showed a further escalation of the crisis at the border, where migrants have assembled in growing numbers on the Belarusian side in the last week.

“Attention, attention, if you don’t follow orders, force will be used against you,” said a loudspeaker message directed at migrants throwing objects, according to the images that were shown on public broadcaster TVP.

Migrants threw bottles and wooden logs at Polish soldiers, and used sticks to try to break through the fence, the video showed.

The interior ministry said a policeman was seriously injured by an object thrown across the border and was in hospital with a suspected fractured skull.

The Polish defence ministry said in a tweet that Belarusian authorities had given migrants sound grenades to throw at Polish soldiers and border guards.

The EU says Belarus is encouraging migrants to cross the border in revenge for earlier sanctions over a crackdown on protests last year against the president Alexander Lukashenko’s contested re-election.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said he was deeply concerned about how Belarus was putting the lives of vulnerable migrants at risk.

Belarus, a close Russian ally, said assertions it had fuelled the border crisis were “absurd”.

Mr Lukashenko had a call with Russian president Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss the crisis, Belarusian news agency Belta reported. Polish authorities said they were informed about a phone call on Monday between German chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Lukashenko, when they discussed aid to migrants on the Poland-Belarus border.

Pessimistic outcome

Poland’s government spokesperson said the government was discussing whether to launch formal consultations on the crisis with Nato allies.

“We are preparing for a pessimistic outcome – that this conflict could stretch out for months,” spokesperson Piotr Muller told a news conference.

According to Polish authorities, more than 20,000 members of the police, border guard and army are reinforcing the border where migrants have gathered near the Polish town of Kuznica.

An estimated 4,000 migrants are at the border and many say Belarusian authorities are not allowing them to return to Minsk.

Poland’s ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said his country was facing a hybrid war.“We have a hybrid war, but an actual war, with arms, is not on our horizon. We are facing an unpredictable enemy,” Kaczynski told Polish public radio.

Iraq meanwhile scheduled an evacuation flight from Minsk on Thursday. So far about 150 to 200 Iraqis already in Minsk have registered to fly home. Other Iraqis at the border have struggled to register.

“We are working on this with the Belarusian authorities,” said Iraq’s consul for Russia and Belarus, Majid al-Kinani.

“The number is fluctuating, because people are stuck on the Belarusian border with Poland or Lithuania and so far they have not been authorised to go back to Minsk by the Belarusian authorities,” the consul said.

In Lithuania, authorities said they had detained 47 people who had tried to approach the border.

Phone call

Mr Lukashenko said on Tuesday he would have a second phone call with German chancellor Angela Merkel amid a push to end the border crisis , the state Belta news agency reported.

Mr Lukashenko said that following their first phone call on Monday, Ms Merkel had taken time to discuss with other EU nations a proposal by Minsk to resolve the crisis, Belta said.

It comes after the EU agreed new sanctions against Belarus on Monday in a bid to stop the regime sending people from the Middle East to try to enter member states.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said about 18,000 people have been flown to the border “from Syria, from Iraq, from Afghanistan, on the promise that they’re going to be allowed into the European Union”.

At least nine people have died on the border, where there are small children among the large crowds of people attempting to keep warm in sub-zero nighttime temperatures.

Travel agencies and airlines including Belarusian state carrier Belavia are expected to be sanctioned for their role in transporting the people. More than half of Belavia’s fleet of planes are leased by Irish companies, and the sanctions will interrupt these agreements, potentially causing financial losses or the stranding of planes abroad.

Diplomats have been in talks with Middle Eastern governments and have succeeded in halting flights to Minsk from several origin cities. The Iraqi government announced it would organise an evacuation flight back to Baghdad from Belarus for any of its citizens who wish to return.

Some EU countries called for tougher action, with Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis proposing the imposition of a no-fly zone into Minsk airport and “legal consequences for the people in the regime who participated in bringing all the people to Belarus and producing so much human tragedy on the border”.

British prime minister accused Mr Lukashenko of an “abhorrent” attempt to engineer a migrant crisis on the border with Poland in an effort to undermine European unity. – Additional reporting from Reuters, Guardian