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Merkel slams Belarus over refugees

August 17, 2021

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has accused Belarus of using refugees to "undermine security." Her remarks come as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan fuels concerns that thousands of people could try to flee to Europe.

Migrants prepare food at the newly built refugee camp at the Rudninkai military training ground in Lithuania
Thousands of people are already in refugee reception centers in LithuaniaImage: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/picture alliance

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday condemned Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for using refugees as a way to put pressure on the EU.

Merkel was speaking after a meeting with Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, whose country is helping fellow EU member Lithuania cope with a migrant surge on its border with Belarus

"President Lukashenko is using refugees, for example from Iraq, in a hybrid way to undermine security, and, of course, we condemn this in the strongest possible terms," Merkel said at a news conference with Kallas.

EU officials accuse Minsk of deliberately allowing people to pass illegally into the bloc to force it to lift sanctions imposed for the mistreatment of the political opposition after the disputed 2020 presidential election.

More than 4,000 migrants and refugees have reportedly crossed into Lithuania this year, compared with fewer than 100 in the whole of 2020. Other EU member states bordering on Belarus have also seen a strong rise in migrant arrivals.

Map showing routes taken into EU via Belarus

Belarussian border violation

Lithuania accused a unit of Belarussian border guards of illegally crossing the border as they pushed a group of 35 Iraqi migrants into the neighboring country.

"The officers left the territory after several minutes, after being told repeatedly by Lithuanian border guards they had violated the border," border guard service spokesperson Rokas Pukinskas said.

A video released by the Lithuanian government showed the Belarussian border guards, dressed in riot gear, crossing a ditch that marks the border between the two countries. A Lithuanian guard is heard saying "let the women though, but not the men."

Vilnius said it would increase border patrols in response to the violation.

What else did Merkel and Kallas say?

"We are closely coordinating with European partners on everything. We will also try to take a common position because this hybrid kind of confrontation, as used by Belarus, is an attack on all of us in the European Union," Merkel said.

Kallas echoed Merkel's comments, saying the Belarusian dictator was using refugees as a weapon against the EU.

The Estonian premier called for Belarus to be inflicted with fresh sanctions.

Alexander Lukashenko standing in front of a flag
Lukashenko is accused of instrumentalizing migrants and refugees as a weapon against the EUImage: Pavel Orlovsky/AP Photo/picture alliance

What is the EU doing about the situation?

EU foreign ministers are discussing further action at a crisis meeting called for Tuesday afternoon.

The bloc is ready to provide Lithuania with more border officers and financial aid to cope with the crisis, according to a draft statement for an extraordinary summit of interior ministers on Wednesday.

The issue of how the EU deals with migrants and refugees seems likely to figure strongly in the bloc's deliberations in coming months, with thousands of people expected to try to flee to Europe from Afghanistan after the country's takeover by the Taliban.

ab, tj/rs (dpa, Reuters)

Lithuanian minister: Migrant crisis 'a hybrid attack' by Belarus