Lukashenko assails EU for refusing to hold talks on migrants

MOSCOW (AP) — Belarus’ authoritarian leader on Monday chafed at the European Union for its refusal to hold talks on the influx of migrants on the country’s border with Poland. President Alexander Lukashenko urged Germany to accommodate about 2,000 migrants who had remained on the border with Poland and criticized EU officials for refusing to negotiate an end to the standoff. “We must demand that the Germans take them,” Lukashenko said at a meeting with officials.

The EU has accused Lukashenko’s government of orchestrating the migration surge on its eastern flank as a “hybrid attack” in retaliation for the bloc’s sanctions over the crackdown by Belarusian authorities on domestic protests. Belarus denies the charge.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday again denounced the “cynical misuse of migrants” by Lukashenko’s government. Poland is pushing the migrants back, saying it’s protecting the border for all of Europe.

It has received strong declarations of support from the EU, NATO and the U.S. A few migrants have died in the damp forests straddling the border. Others have abandoned hopes of reaching Europe and were flown back to their home countries this week.

Humanitarian organizations and Poland’s influential Roman Catholic Church have been pressing to be allowed to bring aid to the stranded migrants, and nongovernmental organizations in Poland have organized charity collections. Poland’s Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said Monday that there were over 300 attempts by migrants Sunday to force the razor wire border fence into the EU. Most were prevented while about 60 people who got through were turned back, she said.

In one case, it was a group of around 150 “aggressive foreigners,” who tried to cross, aided by Belarus forces who used laser and electric torch lights to blind Polish border guards, Michalska said. Michalska said that Poland is planning return flights for hundreds of Iraqi migrants staying now in the country’s guarded centers for foreigners.

She said that out of about 1,900 migrants staying in those centers, more than 1,200 are Iraqis. About 700 of them have applied for international protection and are waiting for a decision whether they will be able to stay in the EU.

Poland would like to fly the others back. Michalska said Poland is currently seeking permission from Baghdad to fly back the first group of some 80 Iraqis in the coming days, on a chartered flight. Around 20 of them have received deportation decisions.

“We are working with the Iraqi side that needs to agree to receive its citizens back,” Michalska said. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Sunday that Poland was ready to finance return flights for migrants, and the European border agency Frontex has said it was working with Poland on such flights. ___

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