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EU mulls new sanctions against Belarus over migrant smuggling

EU leaders agreed to respond to state-sponsored smuggling, asked review on border legislation

Agnes Szucs   | 22.10.2021
EU mulls new sanctions against Belarus over migrant smuggling


The European Union is mulling new sanctions against Belarus, while it reaches out to countries of origin to stop state-sponsored smuggling of migrants, the head of the European Commission said on Friday.

The topic of migration was an important point of discussion during the EU summit, Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, confirmed after the two-day meeting of EU leaders.

“The European Council will not accept any attempt by third countries to instrumentalize migrants for political purposes,” the EU leaders pointed out in the summit’s official conclusions.

The leaders also condemned “all hybrid attacks at the EU’s borders” and promised a response in the closing document.

“We have already proposed targeted measures to reverse visa facilitation for the regime and its proxies, and we are ready to explore options for further sanctions, not only for individuals, but also for entities or companies,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, told reporters after the summit.

“No one's life should be used for political issues. This is an instrumentalization of migration to put political pressure on the European Union,” she noted.

Calling the migrants trying to enter the bloc’s borders with Belarus “victims of Lukashenko,” von der Leyen explained that Belarus had opened new migration routes to Europe by offering “further visa waivers to additional third countries.”

“We will continue our engagement with these countries to limit this state-sponsored smuggling,” she added.

Von der Leyen also said the European Commission would soon review the Schengen code, the regulation on the bloc's borders, to add provisions on hybrid attacks and instrumentalization of people.

She urged EU countries to adopt the new pact on migration and asylum proposed by the EU executive body last year.

Last week, twelve EU states, including Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, asked the European Commission to toughen security at the bloc's internal borders in a joint letter.

The signatories called EU budgetary support to set up physical barriers, and refused “instrumentalization of illegal migration.”

The bloc accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of having invited tourists from countries that are the main sources of migration to the EU in order to revenge EU sanctions against his regime.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell agreed with Iraqi authorities to permanently stop flights from Baghdad to Minsk during his visit to Iraq last month.

At least 6,000 migrants tried to cross the Belarus-EU border compared to barely 150 last year.

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