WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Polish police said on Saturday that the body of a young Syrian man was found in the woods near the border with Belarus, the latest victim in a political battle on the EU’s eastern border.
For several months, the Minsk regime has called for illegal migration across the border into the EU nations of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. All three countries are strengthening their borders and seeking to block the newly opened migration route, and the situation becomes more dangerous as winter approaches.
Polish police said the body of a Syrian man about 20 years old was found a day earlier near the village of Wólka Terechowska. They said the exact cause of death could not be determined and that an autopsy would be performed.
It now brings the death toll to at least nine reported casualties in the migration encouraged by Belarus’ longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.
Many of the migrants are from Syria, Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, people seeking refuge from conflict and hopelessness for the prospect of a better life in Europe.
The crisis creates another point of tension between the West and Belarus, and in continuation of this with its closest ally: Russia.
Although Russia this week sent nuclear-capable strategic bombers and paratroopers to patrol Belarus, Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied allegations that he was involved in creating the flow of migrants to Europe.
“I want everyone to know that we have nothing to do with it. Everyone is trying to impose any responsibility on us for some reason and for no reason at all,” Putin said in an excerpt published Saturday. an interview with state television to be broadcast in its entirety on Sunday.
He said no Russian airlines were transporting migrants to Belarus, and he also pointed to the West as a root cause of the crisis, with military operations in Iraq and elsewhere leading to continued conflict in the region.
“Is it Belarus that pioneered these problems, or what? No, these are causes created by the Western countries themselves, including European countries,” Putin said.
A large number of migrants are in a temporary camp on the Belarusian side of the border under cold conditions. Polish authorities report daily on new attempts by migrants to break the border.
The situation shows no sign of ending soon. The Belarussian state news agency Belta reported that Lukashenko on Saturday ordered the military to pitch tents at the border where food and other humanitarian aid can be collected and distributed to the migrants.
Poland’s border guard agency said Saturday morning in a case that Belarusian soldiers began destroying a temporary border barrier near the Polish village of Czeremcha and used laser beams to blind Polish security services.
Nearby, a group of about 100 migrants waited to cross the border. “Belarusians equipped the foreigners with tear gas, which was used against the Polish services,” said the border guards, saying the Poles stopped the attempts to cross.
Many of the reported incidents at the border are very difficult to verify. Independent journalists face limits on their reporting in Belarus, and a state of emergency in Poland’s border zone prevents the media from entering the area.
Following the major migration to Europe in 2015, Europe has strengthened its borders to counter the arrival of more migrants and refugees. Yet tens of thousands every year try to get in and embark on dangerous and sometimes deadly journeys at sea and on land.
Since the summer, thousands have been lured by what appeared to be a new and easier way to slip into Europe, through Belarus.
The EU accuses Lukashenko of creating the artificial route of retaliation for sanctions imposed on him after a 2020 election that was widely perceived as flawed and a hard-line internal strife that followed.
The restrictions were tightened after an incident in May in which a passenger plane flying from Greece to Lithuania was diverted by Belarus to Minsk, where authorities arrested dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich. The EU called it air piracy, excluding Belarusian airlines from its skies and reducing imports of the country’s best raw materials, including oil products and potassium chloride, an ingredient in fertilizers.
An enraged Lukashenko fired back, saying he would no longer abide by an agreement to curb illegal migration, claiming that EU sanctions deprived his government of the means necessary to curb migrant flows. Planes carrying migrants from Iraq, Syria and other countries began arriving in Belarus.
Jim Heintz of Moscow contributed.
Follow AP’s migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration