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Belarus-Poland Migrant Border Crisis: Live News and Updates

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ImageMigrants walking from the Polish border to a warehouse shelter on Thursday in Belarus.
Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

The hastily constructed migrant encampments at the main border crossing into Poland from Belarus were cleared by the Belarusian government on Thursday morning, removing, for the moment, a major flashpoint that has raised tensions across Europe.

The patch of land nicknamed “the jungle” — only days ago the site of violent clashes between migrants trying to push through the razor wire and Polish security forces blasting them with water cannons — was now a wasteland of garbage, abandoned tents and smoldering fires.

Along the tangle of razor wire at the border, there was not a migrant in sight on Thursday afternoon. Under the gray gloom of the November sky, a phalanx of Polish soldiers remained in formation, pressing up against the wire.

While the clearing of the camps promised to ease the immediate suffering of those living rough in freezing conditions, the authorities in Belarus offered no indication of where those who flew to the Eastern European country in the hope of building a life in the West would go now that they were being directed away from the border.

Still, on Thursday, a steady stream of people — escorted by heavily armed Belarusian security forces, their faces covered by black balaclavas — made their way down a half-mile road to a government-run warehouse where they were offered refuge from the mud and the muck.

For Masoud Mahdi, 35, who had spent 11 days in the jungle with his pregnant wife and young daughter, it was enough to just get out of the cold. “We were living worse than dogs,” he said as he made his way to the warehouse.

“Last night was impossible,” he added. “It was raining and freezing and we had to leave.”

Still, Mr. Mahdi said, he did not want to return to Iraqi Kurdistan. He wanted to make it to Germany.

Credit…The New York Times

Western leaders believe the crisis at the border was manufactured by the Belarusian government, which lured migrants, mostly on flights from the Middle East, to Belarus with easily obtainable visas and the suggestion of a path across its borders to the European Union.

The flow of migrants into Belarus has been largely cut off as airlines restrict flights from the Middle East and the crowds moving to the border appear to have stopped.

But thousands already in Belarus face an uncertain fate, and the authorities have given little indication of where they might go.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said that 430 Iraqis had registered to return home on a repatriation flight on Thursday. But that is only a fraction of the thousands of migrants in Belarus, and there was little sign that most would volunteer to leave. Many expressed hope they could still find a way into the European Union. Some said they would simply stay in Belarus, which would present an unexpected challenge for President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus.

Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

Even as Belarus cleared a large migrant encampment on the border with Poland on Thursday, easing tensions along the European Union’s eastern flank, Western leaders were skeptical that the crisis was drawing to a close.

In recent days, Belarus has sought to portray itself as taking the lead in what it has described as a humanitarian crisis. But Western leaders believe it is a crisis engineered by the authoritarian leader of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, and a cudgel he could brandish again — given that the fate of the thousands of migrants in the country remains uncertain.

The Group of 7 leading industrial powers castigated the Belarusian leader in a statement on Thursday, charging him with the “orchestration of irregular migration across its borders.”

“We are united in our solidarity with Poland, as well as Lithuania and Latvia, who have been targeted by this provocative use of irregular migration as a hybrid tactic,” the group said.

At the same time, the European Union said it would send nearly $800,000 in humanitarian relief to Belarus.

“Europe is at the side of the people trapped at the border with Belarus,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, wrote on Twitter.

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has led a diplomatic push to find a longer term solution — reaching out to Mr. Lukeshenko for the second time on Wednesday — leaders from Poland and the Baltic States said that engaging with Mr. Lukashenko would offer him legitimacy.

In talks with Ms. Merkel, Mr. Lukashenko reportedly proposed that the European Union create a “humanitarian corridor” that would allow entry into the bloc for 2,000 migrants, and that Belarus would repatriate 5,000 others to their countries. Any deal would need to include the countries that border Belarus, and they have given no indication of going along with such a plan.

A senior German official confirmed the proposal but said that Ms. Merkel had declined it. “Germany did not agree to it. It’s a European problem where Germany does not act alone,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity per diplomatic protocol.

Officials in Poland — where the government has dispatched thousands of soldiers to the frontier and used water cannons this week to push people back from the main crossing — warned on Thursday that the threat to both its border and the European Union remained high.

The Polish Defense Ministry accused the Belarusian security…

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2021-11-18 14:44:26

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