Lukashenko says wants to avoid 'confrontation' in migrant standoff

  • 2021-11-16
  • LETA/AFP/TBT Staff

MOSCOW - Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday that he wanted to avoid "confrontation" over a migrant crisis at his country's border with Poland that the EU accuses his regime of orchestrating.

"We cannot let this so-called problem lead to heated confrontation," he told a government meeting, according to state news agency Belta. "The main thing now is to protect our country and our people, and not to allow clashes."

Thousands of migrants -- mostly from the Middle East -- have camped at Belarus's border with Poland for over a week.

Brussels has vowed to press ahead with new sanctions on Lukashenko's regime, which it says has purposefully lured the migrants to the EU's doorstep, charges that Minsk has denied.

Lukashenko discussed the crisis with Germany's Angela Merkel on Monday in his first phone call with a Western leader since he suppressed mass protests against his rule last year.

On Wednesday, Lukashenko alleged that the United Arab Emirates would help resolve the crisis.

"The leadership of this country has a lot of experience in working with refugees, they have already taken part in resolving similar issues in the world and worked with thousands of refugees," he said.

He did not provide further details.

Many of the migrants had arrived in Belarus after taking flights from Dubai.

Iraq has said it would start voluntary repatriations of its citizens from Belarus this week, but many migrants -- including those AFP spoke to -- have vowed not to go back.

Lukashenko criticized his Western neighbor Poland, which has installed a barbed wire along and brought thousands of troops to its border with Belarus.

"All of this is being done under the guise of protecting the EU from the invasion of refugees that have been bombed and plundered by the Western coalition led by the United States," Lukashenko said, appearing to be referring to the Iraq War.

EU foreign ministers have agreed that existing sanctions targeting Lukashenko's regime will be expanded to include individuals or companies found to have encouraged border crossings.