More fatalities at EU's external border. With new sanctions, Brussels adds new instrument for warding off refugees. Poland and Baltic countries reinforce military activities at the eastern border.
Despite new fatalities in the no man's land at the Polish-Belarusian border, the German government is blocking assistance offers and prioritizing sanctions against Belarus over measures for combating the humanitarian crisis. It continues to ignore an offer by the city of Munich to accommodate refugees and grant them regular asylum procedures. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas praises the decision to introduce a new instrument of sanctions, penalizing assistance to undesirable migration that he and his EU counterparts adopted yesterday. This includes sanctions against Belavia Airlines, because it transports refugees to Minsk. The EU, thus, has an additional instrument at its disposal for warding off future refugees. And Maas envisages even more sanctions against Belarus announcing, "we will now continue along this rigorous path." At the same time, eastern EU and NATO countries continue military activities at the Belarus border. Lithuania's foreign minister demands that a "no-fly-zone" be imposed on the Minsk Airport.
The Next Fatality
The situation, in which refugees find themselves at the Polish/Belarus border remains dramatic. Thousands of refugees are still presumed to be vegetating in the no-man's land. Another fatality among them was reported over the weekend. Eight fatalities had already previously been reported. It is not known, whether more refugees have died, because Polish authorities prohibit access to a no-go zone along the entire border to journalists and, to a large extent, also to aid organizations. Even Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights Dr. Hanna Machińska has not been authorized to report her findings on the events in the border region, such cases of violent illegal pushbacks to Belarus. Several hundred refugees are known to have assembled in front of the Polish Kuźnica border crossing. Under international law, the refugees are entitled to demand asylum in Poland. Warsaw has temporarily closed the border crossing to prevent this and the opening of the border region to journalists is nowhere in sight. Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has been justifying the blatant restrictions of freedom of the press by claiming that "the media's presence would only lead to more provocations."
"Endure Images of People Suffering"
Germany and the EU - self-proclaimed champions of human rights - are not only glossing over the brutal methods being applied by Polish border troops, they are also impeding humanitarian aid to the refugees marooned at the border. An example of this is provided by an offer by the city of Munich to accommodate refugees stranded in no man's land. Verena Dietl, Munich's Third Mayor, made this offer to the German government back in late October, and repeated it on November 10. Munich is prepared to "quickly and unbureaucratically provide refugees shelter as well as regular asylum procedures." Berlin is ignoring the accommodation offer and is instead calling for the immediate return of the refugees to their homelands. The Prime Minister of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer (CDU) publicly supports this demand, stating that the refugees should not be accepted in Germany. "Warsaw is doing the right thing; therefore, we should not stab Poland in the back," Kretschmer said. He was also quoted saying that, in his opinion, the German society "must endure" images of people suffering at the border.
Who May and May Not Fly
Whereas the German government is not disposed to accept the refugees threatened to freeze to death in Germany, it and the EU Commission have succeeded in compelling the Iraqi government to call Iraqi refugees back home. A spokesperson for the Iraqi foreign ministry was quoted to have said yesterday that beginning Thursday, his country's citizens may "voluntarily" return home. Already in late July, Brussels had been able to force Baghdad to discontinue scheduled flights to Belarus. In addition, the EU has imposed an immediate halt to Iraqis, Afghans, Syrians, and Yeminis flying from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to Belarus. In response to pressure from Brussels, the Iraqi foreign ministry has imposed a halt to the granting of visas on the Belarus diplomatic missions in Baghdad and northern Iraq's Erbil. The wide-ranging EU dictate, arbitrarily depriving citizens in several sovereign countries of their right to travel, has also recently reached Lebanon, from whose government the EU recently claimed to have received "guarantees" that it will prevent refugees from leaving. In Lebanon, 1.5 million of the nearly 7 million inhabitants of this nation teetering, both economically and politically, on the edge of collapse, are Syrian refugees. From the perspective of Berlin and Brussels, that poses no problem.
Take the Rigorous Path
Alongside restrictions to international freedom of travel, the EU is imposing new sanctions on Belarus. This was decided in Brussels yesterday, by the foreign ministers of the Union. That new sanctions instrument is aimed at persons and organizations supporting the undesirable migration into the EU. The concrete list of sanctions should be finalized in the next few days or weeks. According to the current status, alongside travel agencies and Belarus government employees, it will also include the Belarus Belavia Airlines. One of the objectives is to prevent the airlines from continuing to lease planes from EU-based companies. It is reported, the aim is "to prevent Belavia from flying so many people from poverty or conflict-ridden countries ... to Belarus," from where, they can subsequently be smuggled into the EU. If the EU succeeds in making the sanctions imposed on Belavia effective, Brussels will thus have another means at its disposal for warding off refugees. The German government is explicitly supportive. "We will now continue along this rigorous path," Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas (SPD) was quoted to have said.
No-Fly Zone over Minsk
While Maas envisages imposing further sanctions - including "harsh economic sanctions"  - eastern EU and NATO countries are continuing their military mobilizations at the Belarus borders. Poland has around 15,000 soldiers stationed in the vicinity of the Belarus border. Already last week, Lithuania had the 1,200 soldiers stationed at the border on high alert. Latvia staged an unannounced maneuver with around 3,000 soldiers not far from its border with Belarus. Estonia, for its part, staged paratrooper exercises over the weekend, together with US units. Yesterday, Lithuania's Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis made a series of wild accusations in the wings of the EU meeting with his counterparts, accusations designed to heighten tensions even further, but for which, he was unable to provide any substantiating evidence. Landsbergis claimed, for example that it is "very likely" that Russia will invade Ukraine, "while we are preoccupied with the situation on the borders of Poland and Lithuania." He finds it also conceivable "that Belarus will be attacked" [by Russia (editor's note)] in the sense that Russia would "establish a permanent military presence in the country." Landsbergis ultimately demanded that a "no-fly zone" be imposed on the airport of the Belarus capital Minsk. For Landsbergis, his reckless speculations remained without consequences.
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