WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland, Lithuania and Latvia are considering asking NATO to hold emergency talks as they struggle to manage a tense migration standoff on their borders with Belarus, the Polish prime minister said Sunday.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he and his two Baltic counterparts are discussing whether to ask for such talks under the NATO treaty, which allows any ally to request consultations if it feels its territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.
Still, it’s a step that has only been requested a few times in the history of the Western alliance.
The authoritarian Belarusian regime in Minsk has for months been orchestrating a flow of migrants across its border into the three European Union nations, which form the eastern flank of both the 27-nation EU and NATO. In response, the three have been reinforcing their borders.
In an interview with state news agency PAP, Morawiecki vowed that Poland’s border with Belarus “will be an effective and final barrier” to actions by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
“There is no doubt that things have gone too far,” Morawiecki said.
Many migrants are now stuck in makeshift camps in freezing weather as Poland has reinforced its border with 15,000 soldiers in addition to border guards and police. Most are fleeing conflict, poverty or hopelessness in Syria and Iraq and hope to reach Germany or elsewhere in western Europe.
The situation grew more dramatic last week as a large group of migrants appeared across the border from the Polish town of Kuźnica. More arrived there on Sunday, and Poland’s Interior Ministry released a video showing police warning the people: “If you don’t follow the orders, force may be used against you.”
In Baghdad, the Iraqi government urged its citizens stranded at the edge of the EU to return home voluntarily on Iraqi Airways flights that the government is providing.
Ahmed al-Sahhaf, the spokesman for Iraq’s Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press on Sunday that “large groups of Iraqi migrants are being exposed to difficult humanitarian situations.” He said the ministry has also suspended the work permit of Belarus’ honorary consul in Baghdad to stop the issuing of entry visas to Belarus.
“Smuggling and human trafficking networks are working in inhuman ways and imposing risks on large numbers of Iraqi travelers,” he said.
The EU accuses Lukashenko of encouraging the migrants from the Mideast to breech the borders in retaliation for sanctions on his repressive rule. Belarus denies the allegations.
The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, said he spoke Sunday with Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei “to raise the precarious humanitarian situation at the border.”
“The current situation is unacceptable and must stop. People should not be used as weapons,” Borrell wrote on Twitter.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said Makei informed Borrell of the steps Belarus was taking “to reduce the flow of migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East” and to provide them with humanitarian assistance.
“The interest in the early resolution of the migration crisis was confirmed,” the ministry said, while also stressing the “futility” of sanctions on the Belarus-EU relationship.
Polish authorities reported Sunday that migrants who tried to cross in from Belarus the evening before attacked Polish police officers with stones, hitting one in the helmet. On Saturday, Poland said Belarusian forces were using a vehicle to try to dismantle a border fence and were using lasers to blind Polish forces.
The reported incidents are all but impossible to verify. Independent journalists face limits in Belarus and a state of emergency in Poland’s border zone prevents media from entering the area.
Poland’s Border Guard agency said it has recorded over 33,000 illegal attempts to cross the border from Belarus so far this year, up from 120 last year. Polish forces generally push people back across the border. Yet German authorities say they have recorded more than 9,000 migrants who have come through Belarus.
Polish police have also been detaining suspected human smugglers.
Poland’s Interior Ministry is seeking to dispel rumors among migrants that Poland has agreed to let them go by bus to Germany. The government is sending alerts in English to phones in the border area saying: “It’s a total lie and nonsense! Poland will continue to protect its border with Belarus.”
Salar Salim in Baghdad contributed.
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