The European Union is set to adopt a fifth package of sanctions against Belarus that will add 17 people and 12 entities as the bloc targets those involved in what it alleges is Minsk’s orchestration of a crisis that has left thousands of migrants in squalid conditions on the border.
RFE/RL obtained a copy of the list ahead of its expected adoption by EU ambassadors on December 1. Those included on the list are Belavia, the national air carrier, and tourism companies accused of participating in aiding the migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to the border on the bloc’s eastern flank. In addition, the list adds several judges and other judicial figures, such as prosecutors who are said to have help the regime of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka crack down on dissent after a disputed election in August 2020 that he says he won, while the opposition claims the vote was rigged. “In view of the gravity of the situation in Belarus, 17 persons and 12 entities should be included in the list of persons and entities subject to restrictive measures…,” the amendment to the sanctions, agreed upon by members of the bloc earlier this month, says.
The EU accuses Lukashenka of waging a “hybrid war” by allowing migrants to fly in, then funneling them to the bloc’s borders in retaliation for sanctions imposed over the sweeping crackdown that has been under way in Belarus since he kept his grip on power following the disputed presidential election.
Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania have put up fences and deployed thousands of border guards, soldiers, and police to seal the border, where thousands of migrants have camped in freezing temperatures during the standoff between Belarus and the European Union. At least 11 migrants have died in recent months, according to aid groups.
In the case of Belavia, the EU says Lukashenka promised it support after the bloc withdrew overflight rights to all Belarusian airlines. The air carrier, meanwhile, has instructed its employees to refrain from protesting against the election results and the subsequent crackdown against dissent, according to the document.
“Migrants wishing to cross the [EU's] external border have been flying to Minsk on board flights operated by Belavia from a number of Middle Eastern countries…In order to facilitate this, Belavia opened new air routes and expanded the number of flights on existing routes,” the EU document says. “Belavia has therefore contributed to activities by the Lukashenka regime facilitating the illegal crossing of the external borders of the [EU],” it adds.
Belarusian authorities have recently cleared the makeshift migrant camps at the border and transferred about 2,000 people to a warehouse turned into a shelter, while allowing repatriation flights.
Some of those migrants trapped in Belarus say they have spent thousands of dollars to escape economic hardship or life in displacement camps to start a new life in the EU, only to be mistreated by Polish and Belarusian authorities. Lukashenka accuses the EU of failing to meet international asylum laws by refusing the migrants entry. The crisis has added to tensions between Russia and the EU. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who backed Lukashenka as he crushed opposition protests following last year's election, has also backed Belarus in its migrant standoff with the EU.