In punishment for what she called Minsk’s active campaign to destabilize the group by driving in irregular migrants, the European Union would tighten visa regulations for Belarusian state officials, Europe’s migration commissioner said on Wednesday.
President Alexander Lukashenko is accused by the EU of coordinating a surge in migrant arrivals across Belarus’ border with EU members Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. The surge occurred after the 27-nation union imposed sanctions on Minsk for human rights violations and a widely regarded fraudulent election.
“We have an aggressive regime, Lukashenko, that is actually pushing people… to the European border in order to destabilize the European Union,” said Ylva Johansson, the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner. “This is an aggressive act.”
Johansson made the remarks as part of an update on the EU’s stalling efforts to agree on a new migration system to replace the one that failed during a surge in Mediterranean migration in 2015-16.
She emphasized that data from the EU law enforcement agency Europol shows that 90% of persons arriving unlawfully in the bloc had utilized people smugglers along the route, and she urged EU governments to step up their efforts to combat such traffickers.
For Belarus, she said tightening visa procedures for state officials – but not ordinary Belarusians – was needed.
“What we are seeing now is a desperate Lukashenko,” she said. “This is a regime that has denied its own people free and fair elections. This is a regime that is putting political opposition in jail.”
“This is a regime that has hijacked a passenger jet… and is now committing an act of aggression by utilizing innocent people. This is not a government with which we should work.”
Lukashenko has blamed the West for a potential humanitarian disaster on the Belarusian-Polish border this winter, which he claims will be caused by the West.
In July of last year, the EU and Belarus signed a new visa facilitation agreement to make procedures and costs easier for Belarusians who want to enter the bloc for a short time.
Minsk, on the other hand, has withdrawn from a related EU readmission deal, which creates cooperation on moving people out of the bloc who do not have a recognized right to stay.
That came as the EU sanctioned Belarus over a disputed election last August and a crackdown on protests after Lukashenko claimed victory and extended his 26-year-long rule.
The bloc then stepped up sanctions, introducing broader economic curbs on Minsk after Belarus forced a Ryanair flight to land on its soil last May to arrest a dissident on board.
Migrants from Iraq, Kurdistan, Congo and Cameroon then started appearing on the Belarus border with Lithuania, which had no such immigration in the past, and then on its frontiers with Latvia and Poland.
Five people are reported to have died on the Polish-Belarusian border zone. Johansson demanded Warsaw investigate.
The nationalist, anti-immigration Law and Justice (PiS) party ruling in Poland has established an emergency zone along the frontier with Belarus, meaning no journalists or rights activists are allowed to witness developments there.
“It is totally unacceptable that people are dying at our borders,” Johansson said, adding she was traveling to Warsaw on Thursday to meet Poland’s interior minister.