EU to sanction Belarus as border crisis persists: Live updates

The European Union is set to widen sanctions on Belarus as a migration crisis deepens along its border with Poland.

Foreign ministers from the EU’s 27 member states were expected to approve the measures at a meeting in Brussels on Monday. The sanctions may also target airlines and travel agents involved in transporting migrants and refugees to Belarus.

Thousands of people remain stranded in freezing conditions on both sides of the Belarus-Poland border. They are being barred from entering the bloc as a geopolitical dispute between the West and Minsk rages.

Poland and other EU member states have for months accused Belarus of encouraging people to try and cross the Polish border in revenge for an earlier round of Western sanctions on Minsk over a disputed August 2020 election which handed longtime President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term and provoked mass anti-government protests.

Minsk denies those charges and has threatened to retaliate against any new measures, including by shutting down the flow of Russian gas supplies to Europe via pipelines that transit through Belarusian territory.

Here are all the latest updates:

15 mins ago (11:47 GMT)

‘No way I’m going back to Iraq’

Iraqis who fled their home country in a bid to reach the EU have told Al Jazeera of how they paid thousands of dollars to reach Belarus and its border with Poland.

Despite facing the prospect of being denied entry into the bloc, some say they will not now turn back.

Read the article here.

50 mins ago (11:12 GMT)

‘People are managing to get through’

Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from the town of Hajnowka, near Poland’s border with Belarus, said the presence of approximately 15,000 Polish security forces in the region did not appear to be deterring migrants and refugees from attempting to cross into the EU.

“Regardless of how many forces Poland puts along the border … people are still managing to get through,” he said.

“And we are hearing that there is a push this morning on the Belarusian side, from those people who are stuck there, to again try and get past the border.”

1 hour ago (11:00 GMT)

Von der Leyen slams Lukashenko, vows sanctions

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU will impose further sanctions on Belarus to tackle Lukashenko’s “perfidious” treatment of migrants and refugees.

She said the measures would include targeted penalties against airlines adjudged to be involved in the crisis.

“We are also trying to help the countries of origin,” von der Leyen told a conference in Munich, adding that the “coming days will be decisive”.

2 hours ago (10:26 GMT)

Moscow denies Lukashenko is to blame for crisis

The Kremin has said it is “wrong” to entirely blame Lukashenko for the situation unfolding on Belarus’s border with Poland.

“Lukashenko is not creating the situation that is taking place at the border,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “It is completely wrong to place all the blame on Lukashenko.”

Peskov also said Russia was ready to act as a “negotiating intermediary” to help resolve the crisis.

Minsk depends heavily on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government as an ally and creditor.

Moscow sent paratroopers to Belarus last week for military drills having earlier deployed two nuclear-capable strategic bombers on patrol missions over its neighbour.

2 hours ago (09:59 GMT)

Iraq to repatriate citizens

Iraq’s government has said it will begin repatriating its citizens stuck on the Poland-Belarus border later this week.

The first repatriation flight will take place on Thursday for those who wish to return voluntarily, foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Sahaf said.

2 hours ago (09:55 GMT)

‘People are dying in the forest’

Migrants and refugees have recounted their harrowing experiences, including beatings by border guards and enduring days spent without clean water, while attempting to cross from Belarus to Poland in an Al Jazeera long read.

Read the article here.

Yousef, from Syria, told Al Jazeera people ‘are dying in the forest’ amid the Poland-Belarus border crisis [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

3 hours ago (09:10 GMT)

‘Can’t put into words what people are going through’: Reporter

Katy Fallon, a freelance journalist covering the Poland-Belarus crisis for Al Jazeera, says ambulances were attending to people who had “nearly frozen to death” in the region after temperatures again plunged below freezing overnight on Sunday.

“Can’t put into words what people are going through here,” she tweeted.

3 hours ago (09:05 GMT)

‘Nobody wants to go back’: Lukashenko

Belarus is trying to persuade the migrants and refugees camped out near its western border to return home, but with no success, Lukashenko has been quoted as saying by state news agency BelTA.

“Active work is under way in this area, to convince people – please, return home. But nobody wants to go back,” he said.

The Belarusian leader also reiterated warnings that Minsk would retaliate against any new sanctions imposed on it by the West, BelTA reported.

3 hours ago (09:01 GMT)

EU aims to sanction Belarus travel agents, top diplomat says

The EU hopes to extend its sanctions against Belarus to include airlines, travel agents and other people involved in transporting migrants and refugees to the country, the bloc’s top diplomat has said.

Arriving at the EU foreign ministers’ meeting, Josep Borrell told reporters he had warned the Belarusian foreign minister over the weekend that the situation at the border to the EU was completely unacceptable and that humanitarian help was needed.

3 hours ago (08:45 GMT)

Lithuania calls for Belarus ‘no-fly zone’

Lithuania’s foreign minister has called for all Belarusian airports to be off-limits for airlines potentially carrying migrants and refugees.

It is also offering to help with repatriations from Belarus back to the Middle East.

“We need to make Minsk airport a no-fly zone,” Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters as he arrived for the EU foreign ministers’ meeting.

4 hours ago (08:30 GMT)

Belarus airline bans some nationals from arriving via UAE

Belarus’s state-run airline Belavia has announced that Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis and Afghans are banned from incoming flights from the United Arab Emirates at Dubai’s request.

In a statement to citizens of the four countries posted on its website, Belavia said they would not be allowed on flights from Dubai to Belarus “in accordance with the decision of competent authorities in the UAE”.