KYIV, Ukraine -- Lawmakers in Belarus have voted to suspend an agreement with the European Union obliging the ex-Soviet nation to take back migrants that crossed its territory into the EU.
The vote late Monday in the upper house of the Belarusian parliament formalizes the move that was announced by Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko in June.
Lukashenko and his officials have described the measure as part of Belarus' response to the EU sanctions, arguing that the nation can't afford the costs involved in stemming the flow of migrants heading to Europe and would instead use the funds to offset the impact of EU sanctions.
Belarus' EU neighbors Poland and Lithuania have been struggling to cope with an unusually high number of migrants, most from Iraq and Afghanistan, arriving at their borders with Belarus in recent months. They have accused Lukashenko of encouraging the flow of migrants and using them as a weapon in what they described as a “hybrid war” against the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for its sanctions on Belarus.
The EU sanctions were put into place after the Belarus government cracked down harshly on anti-government protesters in 2020 and were tightened this year after Belarus forcibly diverted a passenger plane to arrest an opposition journalist.
Poland has responded to the large-scale migration by deploying troops, refusing to let migrants apply for asylum and pushing some back across the border into Belarus. The tough approach has drawn criticism from human rights groups. Poland’s influential Catholic Church appealed Monday for humanitarian assistance for the migrants.
Speaking in the Belarusian parliament, Belarus' Interior Minister Ivan Kubrakov described the suspension of the readmission agreement as a “temporary measure,” adding that the readmission agreement with the EU could come back into effect “after relations normalize.”
Pavel Latushko, a leading figure of the Belarusian opposition who lives in Poland, charged that Belarusian authorities have encouraged the flow of migrants to the EU.
“Lukashenko is taking revenge against the EU by unleashing a hybrid war and using refugees to openly blackmail European authorities,” Latushko told The Associated Press. “Migration is part of a broad campaign of confrontation with the West pursued by the Belarusian authorities.”
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