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Ukraine To Send Personnel To Border With Poland To Share Intel On Belarus Migrant Crisis

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Migrants gather in a tent camp on the Belarusian-Polish border.

Ukraine says it is sending some of its border guards and national guard officers to its border with Poland to share intelligence on the handling of the Belarus migrant crisis.

Thousands of migrants are sheltering in freezing conditions in the woods of Belarus near its borders with the European Union states of Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

France on November 12 urged Russia's visiting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to use Moscow's links with the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, to end the migrant crisis.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also condemned what he called "the irresponsible and unacceptable behavior of the Belarusian authorities in using migratory flows to target several countries of the European Union."

U.S. President Joe Biden has expressed "great concern" over the migrant crisis.

"We communicated our concern to Russia, we communicated our concern to Belarus," Biden told reporters as he prepared to depart the White House for a weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat. "We think it's a problem."

EU leaders have previously accused Minsk of "hybrid warfare" tactics, saying it has lured migrants from war-torn and impoverished countries in the Middle East and Africa.

EU officials say Minsk's policies are a form of retaliation for sanctions that Brussels has imposed on Lukashenka's regime over its violent crackdown on dissent after he claimed victory in an August 2020 election widely seen as rigged.

Belarus denies that it is doing so.

Ukraine, which is on Belarus's southern border, is wary about becoming a new flashpoint in the crisis. It has already said it is sending thousands of additional troops to reinforce its own borders.

"Ukraine supports Poland in this difficult time and hopes that it will be able to resolve the artificially inspired crisis in a peaceful and civilized way," Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyskiy told his Polish counterpart on November 12, according to a statement.

"We are ready to promptly consider any request from the Polish side to provide assistance in resolving the current situation."

'Food And Milk': Video Lures More Migrants To Belarusian Border As 'Catastrophic' Crisis Grows
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Meanwhile, Belarus's Defense Ministry said on November 12 that it was holding joint paratrooper exercises with Russia near the Belarus-Polish border. Moscow called the drills part of a "surprise combat-readiness check."

Russia's Defense Ministry said two of the Russian paratroopers were killed in a parachute accident during the drills.

Facing growing accusations of encouraging the migrants to cross into Poland and Lithuania, Belarus said on November 12 that it had sent some 2,000 migrants back to their countries as part of its efforts to stop illegal migration.

Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey said Belarus had revoked the right of 30 tourist firms to invite migrants "just about a month ago," according to transcript of a news conference published by his ministry.

"We have detained around 700 violators at the border. We have turned back around 2,000 people who came from other countries and did not have proper documents," Makey said, without elaborating.

Several airlines said earlier on November 12 that they'll limit access to flights between Turkey and Minsk to stem the flow of migrants from the Middle East to the European Union's border with Belarus.

Belarus's state-owned airline Belavia, Turkish Airlines, and Iraqi Airlines all vowed on November 12 to try to stop migrants from heading to Belarus and onward to the European Union.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry said on November 12 that it had halted direct flights to Belarus from Iraq, in a bid to protect Iraqis against human-trafficking gangs.

"The Iraqi Embassy in Moscow and Warsaw coordinate Iraq's efforts for the voluntary return of those who are stranded at the Belarus border," the Iraqi state News Agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying.

"Iraq has stopped direct flights between Iraq and Belarus," he added.

At the United Nations, Western governments have condemned Minsk over Belarusian policies that have trapped the migrants along Belarus's border.

A spokesman for the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said contacts with airlines were "already showing fruit."

The moves by the three airlines include the suspension of some flights to Minsk and the prohibition of one-way ticket sales to Minsk.

In a Twitter statement, the Turkish Civil Aviation Authority said that "citizens of Iraq, Syria, and Yemen who want to travel to Belarus from Turkish airports will not be allowed to buy tickets" or board flights until further notice.

Belavia said on its website that, "in line with a decision by Turkish authorities, citizens of Iraq, Syria, Yemen will not be accepted for transportation on flights from Turkey to Belarus," beginning on November 12.

Belavia is prohibited from overflying EU airspace after Belarusian authorities ordered the grounding of an international Ryanair flight earlier this year in an apparent move to detain a Belarusian regime critic and his Russian girlfriend.

Belarusian authorities said on November 12 that about 100 more migrants were traveling toward a makeshift camp near the border with Poland.

Meanwhile, a Belarusian NGO says three migrants from Iraq and Syria were attacked and robbed near the border.

The nonprofit Grupa Granica (Border Group) said one of the migrants, an Iraqi, was hospitalized after being struck in the head with a metal pole. It said the robbers stole thousands of dollars after the migrants asked them for water.

The United States, Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, and Albania on November 11 condemned "the orchestrated instrumentalization of human beings whose lives and well-being have been put in danger for political purposes by Belarus."

They also accused Lukashenka's regime of becoming a threat to regional stability.

The joint statement makes no mention of Belarus's ally Russia, which has rejected Western allegations that it was working in conjunction with Minsk to send the migrants over the EU's eastern border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had his second phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in as many days and "spoke in favor of restoring contacts between EU states and Belarus in order to resolve this problem," the Kremlin said in a statement.

The EU has refused. The bloc severed ties and imposed sanctions after a heavy crackdown on the opposition that followed last year's presidential election, which Lukashenka claimed to have won, but which no Western countries have recognized.

Moscow has put on a show of support for Belarus by dispatching nuclear-capable strategic bombers to fly over Belarus two days in a row in patrols that Minsk said will continue.

Lukashenka has said that Minsk "must respond" if the EU takes new measures, raising the possibility of cutting off transit through a pipeline that carries Russian natural gas through Belarus to Poland and farther into Europe.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
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