Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

For weeks, a large group of people, mostly from the Middle East, stranded in Belarus at a border crossing with Poland, trapped while forces from the two countries take on each other.

Most flee conflict or a sense of hopelessness at home, and aim to reach Germany or other Western European countries.

The West has accused Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has lured refugees and migrants to the border to use them as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation European Union in retaliation for its sanctions on its authoritarian government.

Belarus denies orchestrating the crisis, which has caused refugees and migrants to enter the country since the summer and then try to cross into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Humanitarian agencies say as many as 13 people died at the border, where many suffered in a cold, damp forest with little food or water while the icy winter dawned.

Tuesday brought the first snowfall since the crisis began.

About 2,000 people currently live at a warehouse facility near the Polish border. Lukashenko said a total of 7,000 refugees and migrants remain in the country.

Poland’s security services spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn estimates about 10,000 migrants are in Belarus now.

About 8,000 migrants entered the 27-year-old EU country this year – mostly through Poland, Lithuania and Latvia – from Belarus, and border guards prevented tens of thousands of crossing attempts, according to EU figures.

The crisis erupted earlier this year when Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko reacted angrily to EU sanctions. The bloc punished Minsk for its forced diversion of a passenger plane in May and the subsequent arrest of a dissident journalist, Roman Protasevich, who was on board.

Months earlier, the EU and the United States had punished Lukashenko’s government for fighting disunity following a disputed August 2020 election that gave the 67-year-old a sixth term and provoked mass anti-government protests.

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