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EU Reportedly Approves Fresh Sanctions On Belarus Over Migrant Crisis

A woman holds a child as migrants gather for their departure to Iraq at the airport in Minsk on November 26.
A woman holds a child as migrants gather for their departure to Iraq at the airport in Minsk on November 26.

EU ambassadors on December 1 agreed on a fifth sanctions package against Belarus that will add 17 people and 11 entities in response to what the bloc considers Minsk’s orchestration of a migrant crisis on its border, diplomats said.

The punitive measures are now set to be formally adopted and implemented by EU ministers on December 2, according to the diplomats.

The European Union accuses Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka of waging a “hybrid war” by allowing migrants to fly in, then funneling them to the bloc’s borders in retaliation for the bloc's sanctions imposed over the brutal crackdown on Belarus’s pro-democracy movement following the disputed presidential election last year.

The United States is also preparing additional sanctions on Belarus in coordination with the European Union, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after a NATO foreign ministers meeting in the Latvian capital, Riga.

Trafficked In, Trafficked Out: Iraqi Kurds Recount Failed Journey To Belarus's Borders
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“We call on the regime to immediately stop using migrants as political weapons. We will hold the regime accountable for its ongoing disregard for democracy, for human rights, for the rule of law,” Blinken said.

Included on the EU’s new sanctions list, a copy of which RFE/RL obtained ahead of its adoption, are Belarus’s national air carrier Belavia and tourism companies accused of participating in aiding mainly Middle Eastern migrants reach the border of Poland and the EU’s Baltic members.

In addition, the list adds several figures in the judiciary who are said to have helped Lukashenka’s authoritarian regime unleash a massive crackdown on dissent.

In the case of Belavia, the EU says Lukashenka promised the airline support after the bloc withdrew overflight rights to all Belarusian airlines.

“Migrants wishing to cross the [EU]’s external border have been flying to Minsk on board flights operated by Belavia from a number of Middle Eastern countries….In order to facilitate this, Belavia opened new air routes and expanded the number of flights on existing routes,” the EU document says.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election.

Brussels has already imposed sanctions on 166 people and entities, including Lukashenka and two of his sons, over the crackdown following the disputed election that the West and opposition say was rigged.

In one of the more significant sanctions packages, Brussels this summer imposed economic sanctions on key sectors of the Belarusian economy and banned Belavia from its airspace.

Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania have put up fences and deployed thousands of border guards, soldiers, and police to seal their borders, where thousands of migrants have camped in freezing temperatures during the standoff between Belarus and the European Union. At least 11 migrants have died in recent months, according to aid groups.

Belarusian authorities have recently cleared the makeshift migrant camps at the border and transferred about 2,000 people to a warehouse that has been turned into a shelter, while allowing a series of repatriation flights to Iraq.

Some of those migrants trapped in Belarus say they have spent thousands of dollars to escape economic hardship or life in displacement camps to start a new life in the EU, only to be mistreated by Polish and Belarusian authorities.

Lukashenka accuses the European Union of failing to meet international asylum laws by refusing the migrants entry, even as he's admitted bringing migrants to the EU's frontier.

The crisis has added to tensions between Russia and the West. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who backed Lukashenka as he crushed opposition protests, has also backed Belarus in its migrant standoff.

With reporting by AFP and dpa
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