8th Dec 2021

Minsk using migrants to 'divert focus from domestic crackdown'

  • Citizens are still fighting for democracy inside Belarus, says opposition youth leader (Photo: Homoatrox)
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The Minsk regime is using its border crisis with the EU to detract attention away from the on-going crackdowns at home, says an exiled Belarusian youth leader.

Twenty-year old Margo Vorykhava chairs the Belarusian National Youth Council.

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Exiled in Georgia to escape persecution, she said pro-democracy movements in Belarus are still fighting against the autocratic leadership of Alexander Lukashenko, who won a rigged election in August 2020.

"Since 23rd of July, there has been a massive crackdown on civil society," she said on Wednesday (10 November) citing some 270 plus organisations shut down by the regime's judicial council.

Last month, Belarus state security services had also apprehended more than ten members of the European Youth Parliament.

"We're still scared, even though this crisis is happening," said Vorykhava referring to the border tensions with neighbouring Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

"This crisis is closely connected to the democratic crisis in Belarus," she said.

"They are coincidentally connected and is being treated as a means by Lukashenko to wash the focus away from what is happening in Belarus."

Vorykhava said the EU should impose even greater sanctions on Minsk and not be fooled into dialogue with him under his terms.

"We are actually kind of afraid of what can happen," she said, in reference to using migrants as leverage against the EU.

"We believe that the European Union should take into consideration that the democratic side of Belarus is still suffering," she said.

Her comments follow wider EU discussions of a new round of sanctions against Belarus, possibly targeting some 30 individual and entities, according to Reuters.

Sanctions and border walls

EU ambassadors in Brussels are working on the sanctions, which are set to be approved next Monday at a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers.

This comes on top of some 166 persons and 15 entities currently subject to restrictive measures, imposed over the summer.

It also comes amid renewed talks to get the EU to finance border walls, a point driven by EU Council president Charles Michel.

"It's legally possible based on the current legal framework at the European level to finance infrastructure. It is a decision that needs to be taken by the commission," Michel said.

The European Commission has for years refrained from using EU funds to directly finance the construction of walls, citing Europe's checkered past.

And Michel's comment on Wednesday comes only one day after the 32nd anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A number of Green and liberal MEPs in the European Parliament have denounced Michel's comments and are demanding a plenary debate on the issue this week.

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Slovakia, are also pressing for the EU to pay for border fences and walls.

The EU had set aside over €1.6bn for borders between 2014 to 2020.

Some of that money has been used by member states for things like border controls, surveillance systems, detection technologies, aircraft and drones.

Poland now has some 15,000 troops at the border, following fresh breaches overnight of stranded people trying to enter.

At least eight migrants on the Polish side are known to have died over the past couple of months.

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