The European Union and two of the countries on its easternmost border to Belarus, Poland and Lithuania, took steps on Wednesday to lock down the borderlands.
Poland imposed a new law that restricts freedom of movement near a 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) stretch of the border after a state of emergency expired at midnight on Tuesday.
In Lithuania, the government requested parliament extend an existing state of emergency until January 9 and permit new checks of "suspicious vehicles" on its border with Poland, the primary way by which migrants can get to Germany, the leading destination country for many crossing into the EU.
Latvia has also used barbed wire to reinforce its border with Belarus.
Meanwhile in Brussels, the European Commission was looking at relaxing asylum rules to speed up the processing of asylum claims and deportations while also relaxing rules on detentions.
Vulnerable people trafficked on Europe's periphery
German federal police on Wednesday said they had registered a decline in illegal entries to Germany arriving from Belarus via Poland. In November, 2,849 unauthorized entries were made, just above half the number recorded in October.
While some migrants have taken repatriation flights, the Lithuanian Interior Ministry said approximately 10,000 migrants remain in Belarus hoping to cross into Europe.
"Until they are returned to their countries of origin by flights from Minsk, there is a sufficiently high risk that they could be directed towards Lithuania," the ministry said.
In selling bogus tour packages with promises of simple and easy access to Germany, Lukashenko's regime allegedly lured migrants from Iraq and Syria and elsewhere to Minsk where his security services have allegedly ushered them to the border areas.
Lukashenko has denied his regime's role in facilitating migration into Europe, but migrant camps have appeared along the border where previously there were none. He has also sought to use desperate refugees as a battering ram to destabilize Europe, allegedly with the help of Russia.
EU loosens asylum protections
The European Commission wants to allow the three EU nations that border with Belarus — Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — to detain those seeking asylum for four weeks instead of the current maximum 10 days and deport rejected applicants with greater ease.
"We are family. And when one of us is under attack, the rest of us will be there for him. And this is the message we want to project with this package," EU Executive Vice President Margaritis Schinas said Wednesday in Brussels.
The EU would also like to see a fast track for the entire asylum process, including appeals, for those entering from Belarus. Brussels hopes to introduce procedures to hold the asylum process at the border within a maximum time limit of four months.
Aid organizations have heavily criticized the measures. Karl Kopp of the German advocacy group Pro Asyl said in a statement it was "a sad day for refugee protection." Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International's European office, said in a statement Belarus was "exploiting the EU's own tendency to treat people at their borders as a threat."
Insecurity at Europe's periphery continues
The Polish Ministry of Defense said Wednesday that floodlights installed by the army near the town of Terespol had been shot at from the Belarusian side of the border and damaged.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the Belarusian defense attache had been summoned over the incident, which he called "absolutely unacceptable" on Twitter.
Lithuania also built a razor-wire fence along 100 kilometers (60 miles) of its border in recent months. Vilnius said that the fencing had been cut at least three times already.
ar/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)