Lukashenko is attacking the EU for refusing to negotiate with migrants

MOSCOW (AP) – Belarus’s authoritarian leader on Monday sharply criticized the EU for its refusal to hold …

MOSCOW (AP) – Belarus’s authoritarian leader on Monday sharply criticized the EU for its refusal to negotiate the influx of migrants on its border with Poland.

Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, has called on Germany to accept some 2,000 migrants who have remained on the border with Poland, and criticized EU officials for refusing to negotiate an end to the conflict.

“We must demand that the Germans take them,” Lukashenko said at a meeting with officials.

He accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of promising him that the EU would address the issue when they spoke by telephone this month.

“I’m still waiting for the EU to give us an answer about 2,000 refugees,” Lukashenko said. “They have not even contacted us.”

EU spokesman Peter Stano said the bloc had been “in contact with a number of Belarusian interlocutors,” adding that it was examining the possibility of holding talks with UN agencies and Belarusian officials at the technical expert level on how to help repatriate those stuck in Belarus.

The EU has accused Lukashenko’s government of orchestrating the rise in migration on its eastern flank as a “hybrid attack” in retaliation for the bloc’s sanctions on Belarusian authorities’ repression of domestic protests. Belarus denies the allegations.

On Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas again condemned the Lukashenko government’s “cynical abuse of migrants”.

Poland is pushing migrants back, saying it is protecting the border for the whole of Europe. It has received strong statements of support from the EU, NATO and the United States

A video posted on Twitter on Monday by Poland’s security forces spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn shows Russian lawmaker Vitaly Milonov on the Belarusian side of the border shouting sarcastic comments in Russian to Polish border guards.

“Catholics, where is your love for your neighbor? Your faith means less to you than your salary and the instructions from Brussels, ”Milonov, a member of Russia’s ruling United Russia party, shouted over the closed Bruzgi-Kuznica checkpoint.

Poland is a predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

The International Rescue Committee said 13 migrants had died in the forests on both sides of the border. Others have given up hope of reaching Europe and were flown back to the Middle East.

Humanitarian groups and the Catholic Church have been pushing for permission to bring aid to stranded migrants.

On Monday, Lukashenko fired back at the Polish authorities, accusing them of “trying to solve their internal and external problems by putting pressure on Belarus and putting it as the culprit for Poland’s problems.”

He insisted that the migrants were heading west to reach relatives in Germany.

“We have not driven anyone across the border,” he said. “Those people are going there on their own. We do not want any confrontation… but we want to protect these unhappy people as much as we can.”

Polish border guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said on Sunday there were over 300 attempts by migrants to get through the border fence with razor wire to the EU. She said most were prevented, while about 60 who came through were returned. In one case, about 150 “aggressive foreigners” tried to cross, aided by Belarusian forces using laser pointers and spotlights to blind Polish border guards, she said.

She said Poland is planning return flights for hundreds of Iraqis now in the country’s guarded migrant centers.

Out of about 1,900 migrants in these centers, more than 1,200 are Iraqis, she said. About 700 have applied for international protection and are waiting for a decision on whether they can stay in the EU. Poland wants to fly the others back.

Michalska said Poland is seeking permission from Baghdad to fly the first group of about 80 Iraqis in the coming days on a charter flight.

“We are working with the Iraqi side, which must accept to receive its citizens back,” Michalska said.

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Scislowska reported from Warsaw, Poland. Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

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