BRUSSELS – The European Union will tighten visa rules for Belarusian state officials, Europe’s migration commissioner said on Wednesday, in retaliation for Minsk’s aggressive attempt to destabilize the bloc by pushing illegal immigrants.
The European Union accused President Alexander Lukashenko of a sharp increase in illegal immigration arrivals across the Belarus border with bloc members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The increase came after a union of 27 nations imposed sanctions on Minsk over human rights abuses and elections widely regarded as rigged.
“We have an aggressive regime, Lukashenko, which is actually pushing migrants to the European border to destabilize the EU,” Ylva Johansson, the bloc’s home affairs commissioner, told reporters. “It’s an act of aggression.”
Johansson made the comments as part of an update on stalled efforts to agree a new EU migration system to replace one that had failed amid a 2015–16 spike in Mediterranean immigration.
Emphasizing that data from EU law enforcement agency Europol shows that 90 per cent of irregular entrants to the bloc have used people smugglers along the way, it has proposed to EU states. given that they intensify their fight against such smugglers.
As for Belarus, she said there is a need to tighten visa procedures for state officials – but not for ordinary Belarusians.
“What we see now is a desperate Lukashenko,” she said. “This is a regime that has deprived its own people of free and fair elections. This is a regime that is jailing the political opposition.”
“This is a regime that hijacked a passenger flight … and is now … using innocent people in acts of aggression. This is not a system we should be cooperating with.”
Lukashenko has blamed the West for a possible humanitarian catastrophe on the Belarusian-Polish border this winter.
The European Union and Belarus signed a new visa facilitation agreement in July last year to simplify procedures and reduce costs for Belarusians willing to briefly visit the bloc.
But Minsk has since withdrawn from its associated EU readmission agreement, which establishes cooperation on sending away people living in the bloc without a formal authority to do so.
It came as the European Union cleared Belarus over a disputed election last August and cracked down on protests after Lukashenko claimed victory and extended his 26-year-long rule.
The bloc then extended sanctions, after the introduction of broader economic sanctions over Minsk forced Belarus to force a Ryanair flight to its soil to arrest a dissident last May.
Migrants from Iraq, Kurdistan, Congo and Cameroon then began to appear on Belarus’ border with Lithuania, which had no such immigration in the past, and then on its borders with Latvia and Poland.
Five people have been reported killed in the Polish-Belarusian border area. Johansson called for an investigation into Warsaw.
The nationalist, anti-immigration Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland has set up an emergency zone on the border with Belarus, meaning no journalists or rights activists are allowed to watch developments there.
“It is completely unacceptable that people are dying on our borders,” said Johansson, as she traveled to Warsaw on Thursday to meet Poland’s interior minister.
Gabriella Baczynska. By
This News Originally From – The Epoch Times