Belarusian troops probably helped Middle Easternasylum seekers cross into Europe, Alexander Lukashenko has admitted – while denying he engineered the new migrant crisis on the border between his country and the EU.
“Maybe someone helped them. I won’t even look into this,” he said.
Mr Lukashenko denied being responsible for the crisis by luring migrants to the border with the false promise of easy entry to the bloc, but admitted to letting them cross through Belarus.
“I told [the EU], I’m not going to detain migrants on the border, hold them at the border, and if they keep coming from now on I still won’t stop them, because they’re not coming to my country, they’re going to yours,” he told the BBC.
“But I didn’t invite them here. And to be honest, I don’t want them to go through Belarus.”
The situation at Belarus’ border with the EU has become desperate in recent days, with rare footage showing migrants trying to enter the bloc being forced back with water cannons.
On Friday, Polish border guards said two groups of migrants and refugees had attempted to cross the eastern border of the EU. One such group comprised no less than 500 people, officials said, with some throwing rocks and tear gas canisters, allegedly aided by Belarusian authorities.
Forty-five arrests were made as a result, Poland added.
It came after the outdoor migrant camps on the EU border were emptied of at least 2,000 displaced people living in them on Thursday – fuelling speculation some form of resolve had been reached. It instead turned out Belarus had moved them to an overcrowded logistics centre near the border.
An estimated 5,000 migrants remain in Belarus, although hundreds flew back to Kurdish northern Iraq on a repatriation flight yesterday – the first of its kind for months.
Aid groups say at least 11 asylum seekers and refugees have died on both sides of the border since the crisis began earlier this year, though the real number is believed to be higher.
Poland has banned journalists from entering the 3km-wide zone, making it hard for the media to independently verify claims and stories coming out of it.
Dunja Mijatovic, the EU’s human rights commissioner, today called for Poland to give journalists “immediate access” to the border, in what she said was a necessary measure to “end human suffering and violations of human rights”.
Elsewhere in his BBC interview, Mr Lukashenko – who has been in power since 1994 – also admitted that his security services beat people who were put behind bars for protesting against a contested presidential election last year.
The vote’s result saw him hold onto power, but was immediately discredited by the West and remains unrecognised by the EU.
“OK, OK, I admit it, I admit it,” Mr Lukashenko said. “People were beaten in the Okrestina detention centre. But there were police beaten up too and you didn’t show this.”
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