Several thousand people, mainly from Middle Eastern countries, have flocked to the Polish border in recent weeks, arousing fears in Europe of a large-scale migration crisis.
Brussels accuses Belarus of having organized this influx by issuing visas and bringing the arrivals to the borders of Poland and, to a lesser extent, of Lithuania, in order to avenge Western sanctions.
Several hundred migrants have left Belarus to return home in recent days, but attempts to cross into Poland continue and Minsk alternates between gestures of appeasement and warnings addressed to Europe.
“If any of you want to go to the West, it’s your right. We won’t try to stop you, hit you, hold you behind barbed wire“, Lukashenko said during an impromptu trip to a center hosting hundreds of migrants near the Polish border.
He called on Germany to welcome these migrants, adding that “2,000 people, that’s not a big deal“for the most populous country in the European Union, according to statements reported by the state press agency Belta.
“Understand“, however, he said to migrants,”we cannot start a war to open a corridor to Germany“, where many of them want to go.
– “As you want” –
In a video posted by Belta, Mr. Lukashenko is seen walking forward, his face serious, surrounded by a cordon of bodyguards, journalists and migrants. Women and children are also visible, near tents set up in this center, a converted hangar, located not far from the Brouzgui crossing point.
The temporary center was opened last week after the dismantling of a makeshift camp on the Polish border hosting some 2,000 migrants, a move then seen as an attempt to appease Minsk.
The decision came in the wake of two telephone conversations between Lukashenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a victory for the Belarusian leader treated like an outcast in the West.
Other signs of progress in the crisis, two new planes carrying a total of more than 600 candidates for exile left Belarus for Iraq on Thursday evening, and two more flights are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, according to Minsk airport.
Despite these concrete advances, the Belarusian government seems to want to maintain pressure on Europe.
“We understand you, you are looking to go to Europe where you have been invited. We Belarusians and I, the Belarusian President, will do whatever you want, even if it is bad for the Poles (…) or others“, launched Mr. Lukashenko during his meeting with the migrants on Friday.
– New attempts –
Lukashenko, in power since 1994, is accused by Brussels of having attracted thousands of migrants since the summer before transporting them to the borders of the European Union, in retaliation for Western sanctions aimed at punishing Minsk for the repression of a protest movement.
As a sign that the situation remains explosive at the border, Poland reported Thursday that more than 230 migrants had tried the day before to enter its territory by force from Belarus.
Warsaw accused the Belarusian security forces of actively taking part in this coup by “blinding“Polish border forces with”strobe lights and lasers with intense green and red light“.
Minsk regularly denies any involvement in these attempts and accuses the Polish authorities of violently turning back the migrants.
The latter appear to be the big losers in this crisis at the gates of Europe, finding themselves caught in a stranglehold when Minsk had promised them an easy border crossing.
According to Polish media, at least 11 of them have died in the border area since the summer.