Merkel asks Putin to intervene with Belarus over migrants

Warsaw: The German government says Chancellor Angela Merkel has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene with Belarus over the migrant situation on that country’s border with Poland.

Merkel spoke with Putin by phone on Wednesday.

The chancellor’s office said Merkel underlined the fact that the instrumentalisation of migrants against the European Union by the Belarusian regime is inhuman and completely unacceptable, and asked the Russian president to exert his influence on the regime in Minsk.

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Russia is a close ally of the government in Belarus.

Germany is a favoured destination for migrants who arrive in the European Union.

The readout of the call released by the Kremlin Wednesday said Putin proposed to establish a discussion of the problems that have arisen in direct contacts of representatives of the EU member states with Minsk.

It also said that Putin and Merkel agreed to continue the conversation on the issue.

Poland’s Defense Ministry and local police reported that multiple groups of migrants tried to enter the country late Tuesday and early Wednesday but that all the people who made it were detained.

Hundreds of migrants have camping since Monday on the Belarus side of the border, near the village of Kuznica.

Poland’s Defense Ministry also accused Belarusian forces of firing shots into the air in a border area where migrants caught between the neighbouring countries have set up a makeshift camp. The ministry posted a video on Twitter with noises of what sounded like shots.

This week has seen a dramatic culmination following months of heavy migration by people from the Middle East seeking to enter Poland, Lithuania and to a lesser degree Latvia, all on the bloc’s eastern border.

EU leaders accuse the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of opening up a new migration route into Europe to create instability in retaliation for sanctions the bloc imposed on Lukashenko’s authoritarian government over its brutal crackdown on domestic dissent following a disputed election.

Also Wednesday a high-ranking officer with Lithuania’s border guards said migrants were possibly being brought to Lithuanian-Belarusian border by trucks, the Baltic News Service reported Wednesday.

Movement near the state border is ongoing. Even being here, our officers hear the sounds of heavy machinery in the Belarusian territory, which might mean that trucks are possibly bringing in illegal migrants, Rustamas Liubajevas, the commander of the country’s State Border Guard Service, told reporters at the Kapciamiestis Frontier Station, BNS reported.

Caught in the bitter political standoff have been thousands of migrants, some of them families with children, who have been pushed back and forth in a forested area of swamps and bogs.

Already eight deaths have been confirmed but the situation grows more deadly as temperatures drop to below freezing at night.

Poland’s government in past months has faced criticism from the UN refugee agencies and many Poles for pushing migrants, including young children, back across the border into the forest area.

But this week Poland has also received many voices of support from the United States and European leaders as it faces a more dramatic situation with large numbers of migrants using poles and wire cutters to try to force their way into the country.

Belarus’ State Border Guard Committee said on social media Wednesday that four men of Kurdish descent in the makeshift migrant camp at the border were injured and accused Poland’s security forces of inflicting those injuries.

According to the refugees, they were detained on the territory of Poland, where they tried to ask for protection and refugee status. Judging by the numerous injuries … the Polish security forces mistreated the men and forcibly pushed them out through a barbed fence on the border with Belarus, the Committee said in a post on the Telegram messaging app, accompanied by pictures of bloodied individuals.

It is impossible to independently verify the information. Independent journalists face limits to their reporting in autocratic Belarus.

A state of emergency in Poland also prevents journalists from entering a zone along the border.

The developments came as EU Council President Charles Michel was expected to meet in Warsaw with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

On Tuesday the Polish leader described the border situation as the first time in 30 years that the integrity of our borders is being tested. It was three decades ago that Poland threw off Moscow-backed communist rule.

Morawiecki also suggested that Russia behind the migration crisis something Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected as unacceptable.

We consider statements by the Polish prime minister that Russia is responsible for this situation absolutely irresponsible and unacceptable, he said.

In one of the cases of attempted entry into Poland, one group of migrants tried to enter Poland near the village of Bialowieza, in the northeast, according to local border guards’ spokesman, Michal Tokarczyk.

They had various kinds of equipment and tools, which they used to cross a razor wire fence. All were all detained and they were returned to the border with Belarus, Tomczyk said.

Humanitarian workers and local volunteers have also been working in the border area to provide help to migrants who make it through, offering them food, water and clothing.

A group of pro-migrant activists who were on their way to the Poland-Belarus border were stopped by Polish police on Tuesday evening, German news agency dpa reported.

The bus of the Seebr cke Deutschland and LeaveNoOneBehind NGOs was not allowed to continue eastward once it approached the Kuznica border crossing.

The NGOs had originally planned to pick up migrants on their way back to Germany. However, the German Interior Ministry warned that unauthorised transport and possible unauthorised entry could have criminal consequences, dpa reported.

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