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NATO, EU assure support for Belarus’ neighbours in migration crisis

NATO, EU assure support for Belarus’ neighbours in migration crisis

dpa
Riga
NATO and the European Union assured their support on Sunday to eastern EU member states embroiled in a migration stand-off with Belarus.
“I want to ensure you here of the EU’s full solidarity with Lithuania, Poland and Latvia in these very challenging times,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to Lithuania.
“No NATO ally stands alone,” added alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg following talks in Vilnius with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.
The EU accuses Belarusian long-time ruler Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately flying people from crisis regions to Minsk in order to smuggle them into the EU, in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Brussels.
Lukashenko has denied this, but had also said he would not prevent migrants entering Belarus from continuing to the country’s border with the EU.
Von der Leyen spoke of a “deliberate, cynical and dangerous hybrid attack,” while Stoltenberg said the Lukashenko regime was using innocent people to put pressure on neighbouring states.
Both said that NATO and the EU intended to strengthen their cooperation, with a joint statement planned.
Thousands of migrants are holding out in deplorable conditions at the border between Belarus and Poland, in the hope of reaching the EU and Germany in particular. The people from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan entered Belarus on tourist visas.
Some migrants returned home on dedicated flights at the weekend. Von der Leyen thanked Iraq on Sunday for its speedy repatriation efforts.  Nauseda welcomed the visit by Stoltenberg and von der Leyen as a “very important sign of solidarity, support and encouragement for Lithaunia.” He said the situation at the border remained “highly complex and unpredictable.” “There is no doubt that the Lukaschenko regime and the forces supporting it will continue to test by all possible means and tactics the unity of the Western world,” the Lithuanian president added.
On Saturday, Stoltenberg warned in a Latvian television interview that, despite a recent de-escalation, the crisis was far from over.
“The intensity has changed quite a bit, it is of course not as serious as it was a few days ago. But I think it’s too early to say it’s over,” he said.
He also referred to another crisis brewing on NATO’s eastern flank, calling on Moscow for transparency and restraint following a significant deployment of troops on Russia’s border with Ukraine.   Both issues are due to be addressed at the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Riga on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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