Live Updates: Belarus Clears Main Border Crossing With Poland


ImageMigrants walking from the Polish border to a warehouse shelter on Thursday in Belarus.
Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

The hastily constructed migrant encampments at the main border crossing into Poland from Belarus were cleared by the Belarusian government on Thursday morning, removing, for the moment, a major flashpoint that has raised tensions across Europe.

The patch of land nicknamed “the jungle” — only days ago the site of violent clashes between migrants trying to push through the razor wire and Polish security forces blasting them with water cannons — was now a wasteland of garbage, abandoned tents and smoldering fires.

Along the tangle of razor wire at the border, there was not a migrant in sight on Thursday afternoon. Under the gray gloom of the November sky, a phalanx of Polish soldiers remained in formation, pressing up against the wire.

While the clearing of the camps promised to ease the immediate suffering of those living rough in freezing conditions, the authorities in Belarus offered no indication of where those who flew to the Eastern European country in the hope of building a life in the West would go now that they were being directed away from the border.

Still, on Thursday, a steady stream of people — escorted by heavily armed Belarusian security forces, their faces covered by black balaclavas — made their way down a half-mile road to a government-run warehouse where they were offered refuge from the mud and the muck.

For Masoud Mahdi, 35, who had spent 11 days in the jungle with his pregnant wife and young daughter, it was enough to just get out of the cold. “We were living worse than dogs,” he said as he made his way to the warehouse.

“Last night was impossible,” he added. “It was raining and freezing and we had to leave.”

Still, Mr. Mahdi said, he did not want to return to Iraqi Kurdistan. He wanted to make it to Germany.

Credit…The New York Times

Western leaders believe the crisis at the border was manufactured by the Belarusian government, which lured migrants, mostly on flights from the Middle East, to Belarus with easily obtainable visas and the suggestion of a path across its borders to the European Union.

The flow of migrants into Belarus has been largely cut off as airlines restrict flights from the Middle East and the crowds moving to the border appear to have stopped.

But thousands already in Belarus face an uncertain fate, and the authorities have given little indication of where they might go.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said that 430 Iraqis had registered to return home on a repatriation flight on Thursday. But that is only a fraction of the thousands of migrants in Belarus, and there was little sign that most would volunteer to leave. Many expressed hope they could still find a way into the European Union. Some said they would simply stay in Belarus, which would present an unexpected challenge for President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus.

Even as Belarus cleared a large migrant encampment on the border with Poland on Thursday, easing tensions along the European Union’s eastern flank, Western leaders were skeptical that the crisis was drawing to a close.

In recent days, Belarus has sought to portray itself as taking the lead in what it has described as a humanitarian crisis. But Western leaders believe it is a crisis engineered by the authoritarian leader of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, and a cudgel he could brandish again — given that the fate of the thousands of migrants in the country remains uncertain.

The Group of 7 leading industrial powers castigated the Belarusian leader in a statement on Thursday, charging him with the “orchestration of irregular migration across its borders.”

“We are united in our solidarity with Poland, as well as Lithuania and Latvia, who have been targeted by this provocative use of irregular migration as a hybrid tactic,” the group said.

At the same time, the European Union said it would send nearly $800,000 in humanitarian relief to Belarus.

“Europe is at the side of the people trapped at the border with Belarus,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, wrote on Twitter.

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has led a diplomatic push to find a longer term solution — reaching out to Mr. Lukeshenko for the second time on Wednesday — leaders from Poland and the Baltic States said that engaging with Mr. Lukashenko would offer him legitimacy.

Officials in Poland — where the government has dispatched thousands of soldiers to the frontier and used water cannons this week to push people back from the main crossing — warned on Thursday that the threat to both its border and the European Union remained high.

The Polish Defense Ministry accused the Belarusian security services of directing small groups of migrants to less heavily defended parts of the 250-mile-long frontier. Journalists are barred from the area, so it is impossible to verify their claims.

The Polish authorities released videos they claimed showed migrants being led by Belarusian security officers.

The Defense Ministry said on Thursday that about 100 migrants were caught trying to cross the border overnight.

As the Polish government pressed ahead with legislation that would extend the country’s most sweeping state of emergency in modern history, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the German publication Bild that “by defending the Polish border, we defend the whole of Europe.”

Credit…The New York Times

An Iraqi repatriation flight departed from Belarus on Thursday to bring home migrants who are caught in the middle of a dispute between the Belarusian leader and the European Union.

The move by Iraq is part of efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis at the Belarusian border that has stranded thousands of migrants, many of them from the Middle East, trying to reach the European Union through neighboring Poland, a member of the bloc.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said that 430 Iraqis had registered to return on the flight operated by Iraqi Airways, the state airline, although it wasn’t clear how many had boarded the plane. That is a fraction of the thousands believed to be in Belarus, either at the border or in the capital, Minsk, after the government of Belarus lured migrants to the frontier and encouraged them to cross into the European Union — in retaliation, European leaders say, for sanctions imposed by the bloc after a disputed 2020 election.

The flight was scheduled to land first in Erbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, at 6:15 p.m. local time (10:15 a.m. Eastern) and then in Baghdad.

Many Iraqi migrants have said they have no intention of returning to Iraq, and some have suggested that if they cannot find a way into the European Union, they might try to apply for asylum in Belarus — creating a possibly charged situation for the nation’s autocratic leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

Unlike in past migrant crises, the vast majority of these travelers have arrived in Belarus by plane, but the major air routes they used to reach Minsk from the Middle East have been narrowing for days, slowing the flow of migrants into the country.

On Wednesday, Lebanon’s civil aviation authority instructed airlines to allow only Belarusian citizens and travelers with visas or residency permits for Belarus to board flights to the country. Last week, travel agents and thwarted travelers said that Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis were no longer allowed to board flights to Minsk from Turkey, Iran or Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

The flight bans come after an intense diplomatic campaign by European Union members alarmed by the arrival of thousands of mostly Iraqi migrants into Belarus after it loosened its visa rules in August. Hoping for a path into the European Union, the migrants instead found themselves in freezing forest camps on the borders with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Belarus has denied fueling the crisis, and on Thursday, the Belarusian state airline, Belavia, said it had stopped allowing citizens from Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Yemen to board flights from Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, according to the state-run Belta news agency.

Iraq and the European Union are considering offering incentives for migrants to return home, including cash payments. But many migrants have leveraged their life savings or borrowed thousands of dollars to finance their trips, an amount likely to exceed any payments offered by governments.

Credit…Belarus President Press Office, via EPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is taking the lead in trying to find a diplomatic way out of the migrant crisis on the European Union’s eastern frontiers,…



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