By Associated Press - Friday, November 19, 2021

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Polish authorities said Friday there are no more migrants camping along the Belarus side of the European Union’s eastern border, but attempts at illegally crossing into the bloc’s territory are continuing and becoming more aggressive.

Around 50 migrants got through a fence into Poland on Thursday, Anna Michalska, a spokeswoman for Poland’s Border Guard said. They included a family of five who said they wanted to stay and live in Poland, opening a procedure toward settlement. The others will have to return to Belarus, Michalska said.

Two other large groups of migrants were prevented from entering. Some migrants have thrown stones and used branches to hit Polish border guards.

Hundreds of Iraqis flew back home Thursday from Belarus after abandoning their hopes of reaching the EU.

Still, many migrants hoping to reach European soil remained in a heated warehouse that Belarus recently made available near the border. The migrants had been camping in a cold and wet forest since Nov. 8.

Tensions flared at the Poland-Belarus border in recent days, with about 2,000 people trapped between forces from the two countries. The U.N. refugee agency says about half the migrants at the border area were women and children.

The standoff set alarm bells ringing in the region. The West has accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns to destabilize the EU in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian regime. Belarus denies engineering the crisis, which has seen migrants entering the country since last summer and then trying to cross into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Ukraine, which borders both Belarus and Russia, said Friday it would build a 1,550-mile (2,500-kilometer) fence along its border with those neighbors to help fend off any illegal influx of migrants.

Funds should be allocated next year for the building of the fence that will cost an estimated 17 billion hryvnas (about $640 million,) Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Denys Monastyrskiy said.

“Building a fence, a net and barbed wire, with a total coverage by surveillance and alarm systems, along the entire border…is the most rational decision,” Monastyrskiy said, speaking in the Ukrainian parliament.

Ukrainian authorities also plan to dig out a 13-feet (4-meter) wide and 6.5-feet (2-meter) deep ditch on the open parts of the country’s border with Russia and Belarus.

The country’s authorities plan to conduct military exercises in the next two weeks to prepare for attempts by migrants to illegally cross into it.

“Our key goal is to stop and contain a possible mass influx of illegal migrants,” Monastyrskiy said.

On Friday, Ukrainian authorities reported intercepting a group of 15 people of Middle Eastern descent, attempting to cross into Ukraine from Belarus — the first such incident on the Ukrainian border since the migrant crisis flared up on the EU frontiers.

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