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EU Ministers Meet Amid Talk Of New Measures Against Belarus Over Migrants

A group of Iraqi migrants is surrounded by border guards and police in Hajnowka after they crossed the Belarusian-Polish border on October 14.
A group of Iraqi migrants is surrounded by border guards and police in Hajnowka after they crossed the Belarusian-Polish border on October 14.

The European Union's foreign ministers have expressed support for new measures to halt the flow of illegal migrants that the bloc accuses Belarus of sending in retaliation for sanctions against authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his regime over its crackdown on the opposition.

As the ministers gathered for a meeting in Brussels on October 18, several called for fresh sanctions against Minsk, as well as measures targeting Belarus's state airline, Belavia, as migrants from the Middle East and Africa continue to pour over the border on the EU's eastern flank.

"We are no longer willing to watch companies such as airlines earning money by bringing refugees," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters, adding that Lukashenka had become "the boss of a state-organized, human-smuggling ring."

"We need sanctions to underline that we cannot tolerate this any longer," he said.

Brussels has imposed sanctions on Minsk over Lukashenka's brutal crackdown on dissent following last year's presidential election that is widely considered to have been rigged in his favor.

European lawmakers say that in retaliation for those sanctions, Lukashenka is facilitating the flow of migrants by helping them arrive in Belarus, where they are then funneled to the border and forced to cross into the EU.

Thousands of illegal migrants have crossed over the border from Belarus -- mainly into neighboring Lithuania and Poland -- prompting Warsaw to declare a state of emergency amid calls for the construction of a permanent border fence.

German authorities have complained of a flood of illegal migrants via the "Belarus route," estimating that the flow of migrants arriving via Poland and Belarus has spiked, with more than 4,300 illegal entrants to the country since August.

They said most of the undocumented migrants arriving via the "Belarus route" were from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Iran.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the bloc's Baltic members, are pressing for moves against Belavia, such as halting the leasing of planes to the airline.

"The European Union did take some steps that proved to be quite useful: stopping the flights from Iraq, and stopping the flights from Jordan and Lebanon. But there are a number new flights that are being opened up to fly to Minsk," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said.

"Even though the situation seems under control, the flows are actually not diminishing," he added.

EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell appeared to agree with the statements of many of the ministers arriving, saying that "more measures are needed, certainly, but let us see what the member states decide."

With reporting by Reuters, AP and AFP
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