STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) – The thousands of migrants on the European Union’s eastern borders with Belarus is an attempt by the Minsk regime to destabilise the EU, rather than a migration crisis, the head of the executive European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said.
Speaking at the European Parliament, von der Leyen said the 27-nation bloc was standing in solidarity with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia which bear the brunt of the policy of Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko to fly migrants from various world hotspots into Belarus and then push them across EU borders.
“It is the EU as a whole that is being challenged,” von der Leyen said. “This is not a migration crisis. This is the attempt of an authoritarian regime to try to destabilise its democratic neighbours.”
She said the EU was coordinating with the United States, Britain and Canada.
“We agreed that to counter this behaviour, it is important to coordinate our sanctions and to work with countries of origin and the airlines that are transporting migrants to Minsk. And this is what we have done, and what we are doing. We are in the process of coordinating our sanctions with the United States, Canada and the UK,” she said.
She said that to deter intermediaries transporting migrants to Belarus from helping Minsk, the EU would create a watchlist for all means of transport involved in trafficking and smuggling of migrants.
“Today the Commission is putting forward a legislative proposal to do this,” she said.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Marine Strauss)