MOSCOW (AP) — The authoritarian leader of Belarus on Monday sharply criticized the European Union for its refusal to hold talks on the influx of migrants on the country's border with Poland.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko urged Germany to accommodate about 2,000 migrants who had remained on the border with Poland and slammed EU officials for refusing to negotiate an end to the standoff.
“We must demand that the Germans take them,” Lukashenko said at a meeting with officials.
He charged that German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised him that the EU will deal with the issue when they spoke by phone this month.
“I'm still waiting for the EU to give us a response about 2,000 refugees,” Lukashenko said. “They haven't even contacted us.”
EU spokesman Peter Stano said the bloc has been “in touch with a number of Belarussian interlocutors,” adding that it is looking into the possibility of holding talks with U.N. agencies and Belarussian officials at a technical expert level on how to help repatriate those stuck in Belarus.
The EU has accused Lukashenko's government of orchestrating the migration surge on its eastern flank as a “hybrid attack” in retaliation for the bloc's sanctions over the crackdown by Belarusian authorities on domestic protests. Belarus denies the charge.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday again denounced the “cynical misuse of migrants” by Lukashenko’s government.
Poland is pushing the migrants back, saying it's protecting the border for all of Europe. It has received strong declarations of support from the EU, NATO and the U.S.
A video posted Monday on Twitter by the spokesman for Poland's security forces, Stanislaw Zaryn, shows Russian lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, on the Belarus side of the border, shouting sarcastic comments in Russian at Polish border guards.
“Catholics, where is your love for your neighbors? Your faith means less to you than your pay and the instructions from Brussels," Milonov, a member of Russia's ruling United Russia party, shouted across the closed checkpoint of Bruzgi-Kuznica.
Poland is a predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
The International Rescue Committee said 13 migrants have died in the forests on both sides of the border. Others have abandoned hopes of reaching Europe and were flown back to the Middle East.
Humanitarian groups and the Catholic Church have been pressing to be allowed to bring aid to the stranded migrants.
Lukashenko on Monday shot back at Polish authorities, accusing them of “trying to solve their internal and external problems by putting pressure on Belarus and casting it as a culprit for Poland's problems.”
He insisted the migrants have been heading west to reach relatives in Germany.
“We haven't been shuttling anyone across the border,” he said. “Those people are heading there on their own. We don't want any confrontation ... but we will protect those hapless folks as much as we can."
Poland’s Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said there were over 300 attempts by migrants Sunday to get through the razor wire border fence into the EU. She said most were prevented while about 60 who got through were turned back. In one case, around 150 “aggressive foreigners” tried to cross, aided by Belarus forces who used 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.
Of about 1,900 migrants in those 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 will be able to stay in the EU. Poland would like 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 chartered flight.
“We are working with the Iraqi side that needs to agree to receive its citizens back,” Michalska said.
Scislowska reported from Warsaw, Poland. Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.
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Monika Scislowska And Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press