Poland blocks migrants at Belarus border, warns of 'armed' escalation
Migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region.–AFP
As the latest grim chapter of Europe's migrant crisis unfolded, Washington and Brussels called on Minsk to stop what they described as an orchestrated influx.
Brussels says Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has encouraged the migrant flow in retaliation for existing EU sanctions imposed over its dismal human rights record.
Poland, a member of both the European Union and NATO, has drawn sharp criticism for its tough rhetoric on migration in recent years.
"Migrants have set up a camp in the Kuznica region. They are constantly guarded by Belarusian services."
They say they are stuck between a rock and a hard place, with the Belarusian side refusing to allow them to return to Minsk and fly home, while Poland does not let them cross and make asylum claims.
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"We expect that there may be an escalation of this type of action on the Polish border in the near future, which will be of an armed nature," he added.
Muller blamed "people linked to Belarusian special services" for organising the breach.
And in a statement on Monday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on EU member states to impose new sanctions against Belarus.
The use "of migrants for political purposes is unacceptable", she said in a statement. Brussels would also look at how to sanction "third-country airlines" that brought migrants to Belarus, she added.
Germany, which took in a million asylum seekers in 2015-2016 but has since seen a spike in anti-migrant sentiment, urged the EU to "take action" to help stem the flow of people from Belarus.
"Poland or Germany can't handle this alone," caretaker Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told the Bild daily, urging the EU to "stand together".
"We must help the Polish government secure their external border. This would actually be the task of the European Commission. I'm now appealing to them to take action," he said.
The US State Department also called on Belarus to "immediately halt its campaign of orchestrating and coercing irregular migrant flows across its borders into Europe".
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Lukashenko has denied the accusations levelled against his regime.
Belarus border official Anton Bychkovsky told the country's BelTA news agency on Monday: "All these people, including women and children, do not pose a threat to security and do not behave aggressively.
"According to the refugees, they gathered together in such a large group to prevent their forced expulsion by Poland, as well as to draw the attention of the international community to non-observance of human rights by Poland," he added.
"We're prepared for any scenario," Poland's Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski tweeted Monday, adding that Warsaw had increased the numbers of police and soldiers in the area.
Videos published on Twitter by the Nexta Belarusian opposition media outlet, showed hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people in winter clothing carrying backpacks and walking along a road.
According to a geo-location check by AFP's fact-checking service, one of the videos was taken near buildings in Bruzgi, Belarus, about 1.2 kilometres (three-quarters of a mile) from Poland's Kuznica border crossing. The signs along the road were in Belarusian.