Thousands of people are stuck between two borders on the border of Europe, in conditions deemed “catastrophic” by the UNHCR.
The West has accused Belarusian authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating a border crisis with Poland, using migrants as a pawn in a political power game.
Lukashenko’s government has repeatedly denied such claims, instead blaming the West for crossings and mistreatment of migrants.
Aid groups also accuse the ruling nationalists in Poland of violating international law by pushing people back to Belarus, instead of accepting their asylum claims. Poland says its actions are legal.
Here’s what else you need to know:
The migrants are trapped in terrible conditions: The border situation remains fluid, with at least 800 people currently encamped in a makeshift camp on the Belarusian side of the closed Kuznica border post, Polish authorities told CNN on Friday. Hundreds more were “transported to other places by Belarusian services,” they said.
A press secretary with the Polish border guards told CNN that around 4,000 migrants were camping along the border on Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, the Belarusian State Border Committee reported on Tuesday that there were around 2,000 refugees on the border, including women and children, who are at risk from the weather conditions and lack of food. and water.
Most migrants come from the Middle East and Asia and hope to travel from Poland deeper into Europe. They are gathering on the Belarusian side of the Kuznica border post – which was closed on Tuesday – for weeks.
Russia supports Belarus: Russia, Belarus’ biggest (and most important) political and economic partner, defended Minsk’s handling of the issue and denied any involvement in the crisis.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that Moscow “has nothing to do with what is happening on the border between Belarus and Poland”. And on Monday, Peskov said Belarus was taking all necessary steps to act legally.
Russia underscored its support for the Lukashenko regime by conducting joint military exercises over Belarusian airspace on Wednesday.
Russia’s two long-range Tupolev Tu-22M3 supersonic bombers practiced “ground checkpoint interaction problems” with the armed forces of both countries, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
The Polish government is stepping up its nationalist rhetoric: Polish President Andrzej Duda went to the border on Thursday evening in solidarity with the army, police and border guards. Earlier today, Duda addressed thousands of Poles who marched through Warsaw to celebrate Independence Day.
In a speech with nationalist references in favor of the government’s strict policy of keeping the border with Belarus closed to migrants, he said: “We have always been, we are and we will be part of a values-based Europe. Christians, which are also the foundations of our tradition and our culture. “
“The time has come when you must defend your homeland. But we have to guard its borders more than before, ”said Duda, adding:“ It must be done with dedication, with sleepless nights, in the cold, in misery, in a very thankless situation that we have been forced to do. by the hybrid actions of the Belarusian regime against Poland and against the European Union.
Ukraine strengthens its borders: Neighboring Ukraine said it would hold military exercises on Thursday in an area close to its borders with Poland and Belarus to counter a potential migrant crisis. Some 8,500 soldiers and police are expected to participate in the exercises, as well as military planes, including 15 helicopters.
US and EU are preparing new sanctions against Belarus: The White House National Security Council said on Wednesday that the United States was preparing “follow-up sanctions” designed to hold Belarusian leaders accountable for “ongoing attacks on democracy, human rights and international standards. “. The spokesperson did not say when the new measures would come into force. This is the second round of sanctions announced by the United States in recent months.
Acting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the German parliament on Thursday that the EU had decided to “extend and strengthen its sanctions against the Lukashenko regime” at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.