Belarus’s Lukashenko visits migrant centre near Polish border
President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday visited a centre for the hundreds of migrants who remain in Belarus after attempting to cross into the EU via the Polish border, state news agency Belta said.
“The migrants have gathered around the president, greeting him with applause,” Belta reported, also publishing photos of Lukashenko meeting with members of the Red Cross.
Thousands of migrants — mainly Iraqi Kurds — have spent months trying to get into the European Union from Belarus. The crisis escalated earlier this month with around 2,000 setting up a makeshift camp on the border in freezing conditions.
Western governments accuse Lukashenko of orchestrating the crisis by allowing in migrants and taking them to the border in revenge for sanctions on his regime.
Belarus denies these claims.
The camp was cleared last week by border guards and the migrants moved to a nearby logistics centre.
“We know you well and understand you — you are trying to get into Europe, where you were invited,” Lukashenko told migrants at the centre, according to Belta.
“We, Belarusians, and I, the Belarusian president, will do as you wish, even if its bad for the Poles, Latvians and anybody else,” he said.
He said Belarus “can’t start a war” to create a transport corridor from Poland to Germany.
“If anybody wants to go West — that is your right. We will not try to catch you, beat you, and hold you behind barbed wire,” Lukashenko said.
He said that around 150 people were still “wandering” around the border.
Aid groups say at least 11 migrants have died on both sides of the border since the crisis began.
On Wednesday, Poland said that over 200 migrants forced their way through the border from Belarus with the help of Belarusian border guards and were immediately sent back.
Hundreds of Iraqis have returned home on voluntary repatriation flights from Belarus. Two more flights are expected later on Friday and Saturday, according to Minsk airport.