By JUSTIN SPIKE
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The leaders of three Central European countries on Tuesday expressed their solidarity with Poland in an ongoing migration crisis on its eastern border with Belarus, and urged the European Union to increase its support for the protection of the bloc’s external borders.
At a news briefing in Hungary’s capital of Budapest following talks between the prime ministers of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the situation on his country’s eastern border went beyond migration.
It’s a “new political crisis” in which people are being used by human smugglers and mafias in cooperation with the authoritarian government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to exert pressure on the EU, Morawiecki said.
“Human beings are used as objects, as tools, which is horrible. In the hands of the Lukashenko regime, they are merely tools,” Morawiecki said.
Tuesday’s summit of the Visegrad Four grouping of Central European countries came as thousands of migrants, mostly from countries in the Middle East, have traveled to Belarus in recent months and attempted to cross into the EU through neighboring Poland, a member of the 27-member bloc.
Poland has reinforced its border with riot police and troops and plans to build a steel barrier, measures supported by many in the EU. It has also used water cannon and tear gas to deter migrants attempting to breach the border, drawing criticism from some human rights groups and others who argue the migrants shouldn’t be pushed back into Belarus and should be allowed to submit asylum claims.
The EU has argued that Lukashenko is using the migrants to destabilize the bloc in retaliation for sanctions it imposed on his government. Belarus denies engineering the crisis.
The border pressure has been reduced somewhat in recent days, Morawiecki said, after Poland conducted talks with the prime ministers of Iraq, the autonomous region of Kurdistan, Turkey and others in an effort to reduce migrant arrivals to Belarus.
The result is that “today the flow of new migrants to Belarus is totally different, it is much smaller than it was at the peak some months ago or two and three weeks ago,” Morawiecki said. “This is important, this is the first step toward discharging this crisis that Belarus provoked.”
Morawiecki has held other talks in recent days with EU members like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which have also been affected by migration from Belarus. His appeals for help found sympathetic ears in Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a staunch opponent of immigration.
At Tuesday’s news briefing, Orban said the EU had “never been under such pressure as it is now,” and criticized the bloc’s response to migrants attempting to enter its external borders.
“Brussels is conducting a mistaken policy,” Orban said, and claimed the bloc “is financing practically everything that increases migratory pressure” but not forwarding money to secure EU borders.
Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger said Tuesday that his country “undertakes full solidarity with the prime minister of Poland,” and offered assistance to help secure the country’s border.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis urged further sanctions against Belarus, and said he had offered to deploy trained personnel to the border zone.
“If Poland asks, we are immediately ready to provide this assistance,” Babis said. ”We cannot accept this exercise of pressure by Belarus and the Lukashenko regime.”
Monika Scislowska contributed to this report from Warsaw, Poland.
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