Belarus said on Wednesday that President Alexander Lukashenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a call that Minsk and the EU should discuss the migration crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border.
However, Germany did not strengthen talks between Belarus and the EU because Merkel and Lukashenko talked about Europe in the form of humanitarian aid and the return of migrants.
Thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, have camped at the border in retaliation against Lukashenko’s retaliation against the regime after it brutally suppressed protests against his regime.
Mr Lukashenko and his main ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, have denied allegations and criticized the EU for failing to take in migrants to Poland.
Lukashenko’s press service said the Belarusian leader and Merkel “ringed that the problem as a whole would be raised to the level of Belarus and the EU.”
“Relevant officials to be assigned to both parties will immediately begin negotiations to resolve existing issues,” it said.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German leader had “stressed the need to provide humanitarian assistance and return to the victims” during the call.
Merkel said this could be done with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration and in cooperation with the European Commission.
The call was the second between Lukashenko and Merkel this week and the first call by a strong Belarusian man with a Western leader after his regime launched a repression after Putin called on EU leaders to speak directly to Lukashenko.
“Not a good step”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday welcomed the link between Belarus and the EU and called it “very important”.
However, Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller said the call between Belarus and German leaders earlier this week “was not a good move” and appeared to be “acceptance of his choice,” citing Lukashenko.
Merkel’s spokeswoman Seibert said earlier Wednesday that it would be “useful” to talk to Minsk “to improve this humanitarian situation,” even if the talks were with a leader whose legitimacy is not recognized by Europe and Germany.
Poland warned on Wednesday that the crisis could last months or even years, the day after Polish troops used tear gas and water cannons to intimidate migrants throwing stones.
The Border Guard said it detected 161 illegal crossing attempts on Tuesday, including “two powerful companies.”
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said there had been further attempts to cross the border during the night.
“We have to be prepared for the fact that the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border will not be resolved quickly. We have to prepare for months or even years,” Blaszczak told Polish Radio Jedynka.
The West has accused Belarus of attracting thousands of migrants, many from Iraq and Syria, promising easy crossing into the EU and then forcing them to stay on the border.
The EU’s eastern countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, have all refused to take in migrants, leaving many stranded for weeks on wooded borders.
As a result of pressure from the EU, several airlines have announced that they will stop transporting potential migrants to Belarus.
Iraq has also announced that it will begin voluntary repatriation of its citizens from Belarus this week, and the EU border agency Frontex is working with the Polish and Iraqi authorities to arrange charter flights from Poland.
Aid agencies say at least 11 migrants have died on both sides of the border since the crisis began in the summer and have called for a humanitarian response to the problem.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said on Tuesday that the situation was “extremely dangerous” during a visit to the Polish side of the border.
“We need to find a way to alleviate the escalation and make sure we really focus on ending the suffering,” he told reporters.
The Belarusian Red Cross said on Wednesday that some 1,000 migrants had been placed in a “logistics center” near a checkpoint in Bruzgi-Kuznica.
Another 800 people were still in a temporary camp near the border, Russian news agency Ria Novosti reported.
Volunteers and soldiers distributed hot porridge, sweets, water, tea and canned food, according to images from a Russian state television show.
The Belarusian Ministry of Health said six people, four of them children from the Bruzg camp, were hospitalized.