Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned Monday as he arrived for a meeting with EU colleagues that Belarus faces tougher sanctions over the migrant crisis on the Polish border.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko appeared to be trying to defuse the crisis, insisting he does not want a conflict, but Maas warned that Brussels was in no mood to back down.
“Lukashenko demands that we remove all sanctions. We will give our answer today. We will further tighten sanctions,” he said, as the EU foreign ministers gathered.
EU ministers extended the scope of the legal framework for future sanctions to target those it accuses of ferrying migrants to the border.
The 27-nation bloc is looking to target around 30 Belarusian officials, the country’s state airline and travel agencies. The list is expected to be finalised in the coming days.
The EU has successfully pushed key migrant transit hubs such as Turkey to block travel to Minsk.
And European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said as he arrived at the meeting that the moves mean the inflow of migrants to Belarus is getting “under control”.
“What we have to provide is humanitarian assistance to these people and to prevent any kind of hybrid attack against European Union borders,” Borrell said.
Thousands of migrants from the Middle East are camped out in dire conditions on the Poland-Belarus border, trapped in a perilous stand-off between the 27-nation group and Minsk.
Western countries accuse Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime of engineering the crisis in retaliation for earlier sanctions by encouraging migrants to come to Minsk and then taking them to the border.
The foreign minister of Lithuania, which also borders Belarus, urged making Minsk airport “a no-fly zone” to block migrants arriving.
“The second thing that we need to talk about is how do we provide safe passage to the people who are already in Belarus, for them to go back home,” Gabrielius Landsbergis said.
“We need to work with international organisations like the United Nations and others to bring people back.”