Polish authorities say they have detained dozens of migrants who forced their way across its eastern border with Belarus, amid an escalating crisis on the EU's eastern frontier.
Hundreds remained trapped in the open in freezing temperatures along the border, where razor-wire fences and Polish troops have repeatedly blocked their entry into the EU- and NATO-member state.
In recent months, thousands of migrants from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa have attempted to illegally enter Poland and fellow EU members Latvia and Lithuania from Belarus. The EU has accused Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka of flying in migrants and funneling them to the bloc's borders to retaliate against Brussels for sanctions imposed over a sweeping crackdown since last year's disputed presidential election.
According to Polish radio RMF, around 200 people tried to breach the Polish border on the afternoon of November 9, and a second group of around 60 people tried after midnight.
A spokesman for the Podlaskie regional police department said police had detained more than 50 people near Bialowieza over the previous 24 hours. Two separate groups of migrants were involved, some of whom had evaded detention, Tomasz Krupa told AFP. "It was an uneasy night along the Polish-Belarusian border. There were several attempts to illegally cross the Polish border," Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said in a televised interview on November 10, adding that all those who tried to cross were detained.
Blaszczak added that the force of Polish soldiers deployed at the border had been strengthened to 15,000 from 12,000. Polish authorities accused Minsk of staging an "attack" on the border and Russian President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating the crisis as migrants gathered on the Belarusian side of the frontier after attempting to enter Poland the previous day.
"This attack which Lukashenka is conducting has its mastermind in Moscow, the mastermind is President Putin," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told an emergency session of the Polish parliament.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Poland's special services said Belarusian security personnel were "firing empty shots into the air, simulating dangerous events." The same day, the parliament in Lithuania declared a monthlong state of emergency to allow border guards to use "mental coercion" and "proportional physical violence" to prevent migrants from entering the country.
Poland has already imposed a state of emergency at its border with Belarus, and lawmakers approved the building of a $407 million wall on the frontier.
Lukashenka's government, which is backed by Russia, denies manufacturing the migrant crisis and accuses Poland and the EU of violating human rights by refusing to allow the migrants to apply for asylum. In response to the crisis, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on November 8 called on EU member states to "finally approve the extended sanctions regime on the Belarusian authorities responsible for this hybrid attack." The EU will explore how to sanction, including through "blacklisting third-country airlines that are active in human trafficking," she said. The EU said on November 9 that it was pressing more than a dozen countries to prevent migrant flights leaving for Belarus to attempt getting into the bloc. Among those countries were Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Georgia. Brussels has already pushed Iraq to halt flights to Minsk, the EU said. Meanwhile, the EU has suspended its visa-facilitation agreement with Belarus over the situation. The suspension of parts of the agreement will apply to Belarusian officials and not affect ordinary citizens, the European Council said on November 9.