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Polish PM Calls For 'Concrete Steps' From NATO Amid Migrant Crisis On Belarus Border

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Hundreds of desperate migrants are trapped in freezing temperatures on the Polish-Belarusian border and the presence of troops from both countries has raised fears of a confrontation.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called on NATO to take "concrete steps" to resolve the migrant crisis on the Belarusian border, adding that Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia may ask for consultations under Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which allows any ally to request consultations if it feels its territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.

"It is not enough just for us to publicly express our concern -- now we need concrete steps and the commitment of the entire alliance," Morawiecki told the state news agency PAP on November 14.

Polish authorities say they expect a major attempt by migrants to break through the country’s border with Belarus by force, a day after more than 200 of them tried to force their way into the EU member state.

Thousands of people, mainly from the Middle East, are stuck in makeshift camps in dire conditions on the Belarusian side of the border, caught at the center of an escalating diplomatic row between Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the EU.

Minsk faces new sanctions over the crisis at the bloc’s eastern frontier, with EU officials accusing Lukashenka of provoking it to undermine the bloc' security -- which he denies.

“After a ‘quiet’ night in the vicinity of the camp in Kuznica, we are currently observing that more groups of armed officers of Belarusian services are located in this site,” the Polish border guards tweeted on November 14, adding: “We are noticing a commotion among migrants. There was also a TV broadcast van.”

The force wrote that migrants were “preparing today for a major attempt at crossing the border. Our forces are ready for action.”

Earlier, the border guards said they recorded 223 attempts to illegally cross the border the previous day, while police said officers were attacked in the evening in the Kolonia Klukowicze area during such an attempt.

The impact of a stone thrown by a migrant was so forceful that one officer's helmet was damaged, police said following similar clashes in recent days.

In a separate incident, police said about 50 migrants broke through a border barrier by force near the border village of Starzyna. Police said 22 Iraqi citizens were detained.

Polish authorities have also been detaining people suspected of smuggling the migrants, with two citizens of Georgia, one Pole, and one Syrian held on November 13, police said.

Poland's government said it was seeking to dispel rumors among migrants that on November 15 “coaches from Germany will come pick them up from the border and Poland will let them through.”

“It's a lie. The Polish border is and will be well guarded,” Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski tweeted late on November 13, saying that security alerts were being sent to peoples' phones.

The influx of migrants to Belarus has been building for several months, with thousands of people from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa trying to illegally enter Poland, as well as fellow EU members Latvia and Lithuania.

'Food And Milk': Video Lures More Migrants To Belarusian Border As 'Catastrophic' Crisis Grows
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The EU has accused Lukashenka of flying in migrants and funneling them to the bloc's borders to retaliate against Brussels for sanctions imposed after last year's disputed presidential election.

Lukashenka's government, which is backed by Russia, denies the EU charges and has accused Poland and the EU of violating human rights by refusing to allow the migrants to apply for asylum.

Poland and other EU governments have accused Moscow of helping ally Lukashenka orchestrate the border crisis, which the Kremlin denies.

Poland has reinforced its border with 15,000 soldiers in addition to border guards and police in an attempt to stop the migrants and refugees stuck in makeshift camps on the Belarusian side of the frontier from entering the country.

Amid the tense standoff on Poland’s eastern border, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on November 15 may approve a new, fifth package of sanctions that are expected to target Belarus's state-owned airline Belavia for its alleged role in transporting migrants to Minsk.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told a French weekly that the ministers will allow sanctions against "all those who are participating in the trafficking of migrants" in Belarus, including airlines, travel agencies, and officials.

In a tweet, Borrell said he had raised the "precarious humanitarian situation at the border with the EU" with Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey.

"People's lives must be protected and humanitarian agencies allowed access," Borrell said on November 14.

"The current situation is unacceptable and must stop. People should not be used as weapons," he added.

"We will certainly discuss further sanctions, including the complete closure of the border to cut off the regime from any economic benefits,"Morawiecki told PAP.

Morawiecki also said that the EU "should contribute jointly" to a Polish project to build a wall along the border.

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

But Russian President Vladimir Putin said on November 13 that such a move "would mean a breach of our gas transit contract.”

"I hope this will not happen," Putin said in a television interview, adding: "There's nothing good in this, and I will, of course, talk to him about this subject. Perhaps he said that in a fit of temper."

On the same day, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the treatment of migrants by the Belarusian government in a telephone call with his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau on November 13, the State Department said.

"Secretary Blinken reaffirmed U.S. support for Poland in the face of the [Lukashenka] regime’s cynical exploitation of vulnerable migrants," spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on November 14.

"The actions by the [Lukashenka] regime threaten security, sow division, and aim to distract from Russia’s activities on the border with Ukraine,” the statement added.

With reporting by Journal du Dimanche and PAP
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    RFE/RL's Belarus Service

    RFE/RL's Belarus Service is one of the leading providers of news and analysis to Belarusian audiences in their own language. It is a bulwark against pervasive Russian propaganda and defies the government’s virtual monopoly on domestic broadcast media.

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