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Poland warns migrant crisis could last for years

Sokolka, Poland | November 17, 2021, Wednesday @ 14:07 in World » GENERAL | By: AFP | Views: 1571
Poland warns migrant crisis could last for years

Migrants aiming to cross into Poland warm themselves by a fire on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region on November 16, 2021. (Maxim GUCHEK / BELTA / AFP)

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(AFP) - Poland warned on Wednesday that the crisis on the Belarusian border could last for months or even years, a day after Polish forces used tear gas and water cannon to deter stone-throwing migrants.

Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said there had been further attempts at crossing the border during the night, in the latest escalation of a months-long standoff on the EU's eastern border.

Thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, are staying on the border in what the West says is a crisis engineered by Belarus to try to divide the EU and hit back against sanctions.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his main ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, have rejected the accusations and criticised the EU for not taking in the migrants.

"We have to prepare for the fact that the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border will not be resolved quickly. We have to prepare for months or even years," Blaszczak told Poland's Radio Jedynka.

Blaszczak said that attempts to cross the border had continued during the night, adding that migrants had used the same "method of attacking the Polish border" as seen on Tuesday at the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing.

"The public attention focused on what happened in Kuznica, while smaller groups of migrants tried to break through the Polish border in other sections, also at night," he said.

- Flying bans -

The border guard service said it had detected "161 attempts at illegal crossing" on Tuesday, including "two forceful attempts to cross the border registered during the evening".

Polish police said nine officers were injured in the clashes on Tuesday, along with a border guard and a soldier.

A police spokesman said no injured officers remained in hospital.

Belarus and Russia condemned the action taken by Polish forces on Tuesday, which came a day after the EU and US said they were expanding sanctions against Belarus for the migrant crisis.

The West has accused Belarus of luring thousands of migrants, many from Iraq and Syria, with the promise of an easy crossing into the EU and then forcing them to stay at the border.

The EU's eastern member states of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have refused to take the migrants, leaving many stranded for weeks in the forested borderlands between the two countries.

Following pressure from the EU, several airlines have said they will now stop transporting would-be migrants to Belarus.

Iraq has also said it will start voluntary repatriations of its citizens from Belarus this week and the EU border agency Frontex is working with the Polish and Iraqi authorities on arranging charter flights from Poland as well.

- 'Stop the suffering' -

Lukashenko, who has crushed opposition to his rule over nearly three decades in power, discussed the crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday.

It was his first phone call with a Western leader since he suppressed mass protests against his rule last year.

French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to try to defuse the crisis.

Aid groups say at least 11 migrants have died on both sides of the border since the crisis began in the summer and have called for a humanitarian response to the crisis.

Visiting areas near the border on the Polish side, the Council of Europe human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic on Tuesday said the situation was "extremely dangerous".

"We need to find a way to de-escalate, to make sure the focus is really to stop the suffering," she told reporters.

Russian state television on Wednesday showed hundreds of migrants at an indoor centre set up by Belarusian authorities near the border where families with young children spent the night.

The Belarusian health ministry said it had hospitalised six people, including four children, from the Bruzgi camp.

© Agence France-Presse

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