The EU said Tuesday it is pressing more than a dozen countries to prevent their nationals leaving for Belarus on a perilous attempt to get into the bloc.
The effort is part of Brussels’ reaction to what it says is an orchestrated campaign by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to destabilize the EU by encouraging migrants to its borders – especially Poland and Lithuania – in retaliation for EU sanctions on his regime.
“This is part of the inhuman and really gangster style approach of the Lukashenko regime,” a European Commission spokesman, Peter Stano, told journalists.
The EU has already successfully leaned on Iraq to halt flights from Baghdad to Minsk.
Now it is expanding that “outreach” to include 13 countries that are, or potentially could be, sources of migrants for Belarus to instrumentalize, and “monitoring” 20 more.
Brussels has already contacted 13 countries: Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Egypt, Georgia, Guinea, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Turkey.
The 20 countries being monitored were: Algeria, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Ivory Coast, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Yemen.
Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas was to visit several countries of origin and transit to raise awareness of Minsk’s migration gambit and the risks to people tempted to take it.
Russia – Lukashenko’s strongest ally – was being watched “very carefully,” Stano said.
“In Russia, we are observing the situation for its potential to manipulate people or instrumentalize migration, or for its potential for abuse from the Lukashenko regime,” he said.
Stano added that the EU was working towards a fifth set of sanctions on Lukashenko’s regime, saying: “We are trying to explore all the possible means we have at our disposal to deal with the situation.”
Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that the EU was in particular looking how it might sanction airlines deemed to be “active in human trafficking” by flying migrants to Belarus.
The EU on Tuesday suspended an agreement under which Belarus officials used to be able to get EU visas more easily, adopting a Commission proposal announced in September as part of its raft of restrictions on Lukashenko’s regime.