A record number of migrants have crossed the Polish border with Belarus since Friday, the Polish border guard said on Monday. The announcement comes amid accusations that Minsk is deliberately sending migrants across the border to put pressure on the EU.
On Monday, August 9, the Polish border guard announced that it had detained 349 migrants crossing the Belarus border since Friday without papers – an unprecedented number, the border guard said. The migrants were presumed to be from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The largest group of 85 people was detained by officers from the Kuznica station on Saturday, according to the statement cited by Reuters.
This year, the border guard unit working on the border with Belarus has reportedly detained 871 migrants who crossed irregularly, compared to 122 migrants in all of 2020.
Border states call on EU for help
Both Poland and Lithuania have seen a sharp rise in migrant arrivals from neighboring Belarus in recent weeks. The increase has prompted both EU countries to appeal to European institutions for help, as national authorities are overwhelmed and largely unprepared to deal with reception and asylum processes.
The parliament in Vilnius is planning an extraordinary session on Tuesday to discuss the issue, Reuters reports, and EU home affairs ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting on August 18.
Lithuania has registered rising migrant numbers for several months now, and to a greater extent than Poland. The total number of detected newcomers has reached 4,000 so far this year, compared to just 81 for all of 2020, according to France24.
Lithuanian and Polish authorities have accused Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants to put pressure on the EU to reverse sanctions on the country. Another possible reason for Belarus’ pressure appears to be Poland’s decision to give refuge to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics, Reuters reports.
Threat of retaliation
On Monday one year ago, Lukashenko won the national elections, which opponents said was rigged. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in an unprecedented protest against his rule since he became president in 1994.
Lukashenko insisted he won the election fairly and responded with a brutal crackdown on opponents in which many have been arrested or gone into exile abroad. Lukashenko said that Belarus would retaliate when "hit" and that western countries should not use sanctions against Belarus.
"(Sanctions) can have the opposite effect, which is shown by the reality of today's events on the Belarusian-Polish, Belarusian-Ukrainian, Belarusian-Lithuanian, and Belarusian-Latvian borders," he told a news conference on Monday.