Belarus says that camps on the Polish border have been cleared of people | Belarus

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Belarus said the hastily built migrant camps on the border with Poland had been cleared of people on Thursday in a sign that Minsk is keen to end the deadly crisis that its leader, Alexander Lukashenko, helped create.

On Thursday, that crisis claimed its 13th victim after an NGO reported that a one-year-old child had died after his family attempted the dangerous journey through Belarus into the EU.

According to the Polish Center for International Aid, the child’s family was from Syria and had been trapped in the forest for six weeks. The cause of death was not stated, although the child’s family is said to have been stabbed by an attack.

Belarusian state media, along with some international press, reported that the campsite near the Polish city of Kuźnica, where people trying to cross the border were forced back with tear gas and water cannons, had been cleared of people on Thursday morning. All that remained of the migrant camp, Belarusian state media wrote, were “huts, remnants of tents, abandoned clothes and dying fires”.

The Polish border guard confirmed: “The campsite near the border crossing in Bruzgi was deserted. The Belarusian services sent the foreigners to the transport and logistics center, which is several hundred meters away.” Belarus had already moved more than 1,000 migrants to the warehouse on Wednesday, where they received food.

It is unclear where they will go from there.

On Thursday, a spokesman for Lukashenko also claimed that he and Merkel had discussed creating a humanitarian corridor to Germany for 2,000 of the migrants at the border, and that Belarus had agreed to help transport the remaining 5,000 back to their country of origin. mainly Syria or Iraq.

The spokesman said the first repatriation flight had departed from Belarus on Thursday with 431 Iraqi immigrants on board. The remaining people “have categorically refused to leave but we will work on it”, they added.

Migrants from Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries have reported spending more than £ 10,000 traveling to Belarus and then hiring smugglers to help them cross the border. Many have said they have no plans to return.

“We keep our promises,” the spokesman said. “Meanwhile, the EU has not fulfilled any of its own obligations.”

The proposal for a secret agreement between Lukashenko and Merkel on migration is politically explosive, but the Belarussian leader has reason to exaggerate the results of his talks with Merkel.

Germany has not confirmed that it has reached an agreement on a humanitarian corridor with Lukashenko, and the media on Thursday quoted government sources as denying that an agreement had been reached. The EU has confirmed that only technical talks would be held with the Belarussian government to deal with the return of migrants to their home countries.

Nevertheless, European politicians have expressed anger at Germany and Merkel for engaging directly with Lukashenko, who had not spoken to a single EU leader since launching a brutal crackdown on the opposition last year.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis criticized the appearance of a “separate track of negotiations with the dictator, the illegal president”. The EU has not recognized Lukashenko as the legitimate leader of Belarus following allegations of widespread abuses and electoral fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Landsbergis also said that at least one EU government had tried to remove Belavia, the Belarusian state airline, from a list of sanctions approved by EU foreign ministers earlier this week. Politico has reported that Germany and Italy have been reluctant to sign off on the full sanctions list due to a last minute limits of the airline on flights with Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni citizens from Istanbul. The publication also reported that a Syrian airline could be removed from the sanctions list.

Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko’s main supporter, accused the West of using the migrant crisis “as a new cause of tensions in a region near us, to put pressure on Minsk.” He also criticized Polish border guards for using water cannons and tear gas on children.