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The migrant crisis on the Poland-Belarus border explained



The migrants — most of whom are from the Middle East and Asia, and who are hoping to travel on from Poland deeper into Europe — have been gathering on the Belarusian side of the Kuznica border crossing. Authorities closed the crossing on Tuesday, with aerial footage showing large crowds congregating in the area.

Here’s what you need to know about the crisis that’s unfolding on Europe’s frontier.

One Syrian asylum-seeker, who recently arrived in Poland after his third attempt at crossing the border from Belarus, told CNN that on arriving at the border, guards caught him and three others in his group. He was beaten up, and suffered facial injuries, a broken nose and bruised ribs.

Polish authorities said seven migrants have been found dead on Poland’s side of the border, with reports of more deaths in Belarus.

Polish officers at the Polish-Belarusian border on November 8.

Humanitarian groups are also accusing Poland’s ruling nationalists of violating the international right to asylum by pushing people back into Belarus instead of accepting their applications for protection. Poland says its actions are legal.

Since the beginning of November, there have been 4,300 recorded border crossing attempts, according to Polish authorities. The Polish border guard said it had recorded around 1,000 crossing attempts in the last two days, including some “large-scale” efforts with groups of more than 100 people trying to breach the fence. Polish authorities have detained small numbers of people and immediately sent others back to Belarus.

A Polish border guard representative told CNN earlier this week that some of the migrants had been pushed toward the barriers by Belarusian services.

Access to the area is tightly restricted. Journalists and aid workers have been blocked from traveling to the area by an exclusion zone.

A larger political crisis is brewing

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has previously been accused of manufacturing a migrant crisis on the border by the prime ministers of neighboring Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, leading Poland to adopt a bill in October for the construction of a wall along its border with Belarus.

Lukashenko’s government has repeatedly denied such claims, instead blaming the West for the crossings and treatment of migrants.

Russia, Belarus’ largest (and most important) political and economic partner, has defended Minsk’s handling of the issue and has denied any involvement in the crisis.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that Moscow “has nothing to do with what is happening on the border of Belarus and Poland.” And on Monday, Peskov said Belarus was taking all necessary measures to act legally.

Russia underlined their support for the Lukashenko regime by performing joint military exercises over Belarus airspace on Wednesday.

The two long-range Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 supersonic long-range bombers practiced “issues of interaction with ground control points” with armed forces of both countries, the Russian Ministry of Defense said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Ukraine said it will hold military drills in an area near its borders with Poland and Belarus to counter a potential migrant crisis, with some 8,500 servicemen and police expected to participate in the exercises, along with military aircraft, including 15 helicopters.

Belarus faces new sanctions

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, speaking to CNN in October.

The United States and the European Union have announced new sanctions against Belarus this week.

On Wednesday, the White House’s National Security Council said the US is preparing “follow-up sanctions” designed to hold Belarusian leaders accountable for “ongoing attacks on democracy, human rights and international norms.” The spokesperson did not specify when the new sanctions would come into place.

“We are deeply concerned by the Lukashenka regime’s inhumane actions and strongly condemn their callous exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people,” the spokesperson said.

This is the second round of sanctions announced by the US in recent months. In August, the White House announced a sweeping executive order targeting those in the Belarusian regime involved in the repression of human rights and democracy.

The executive order was released on the one-year anniversary of Belarus’ election, which sparked widespread protests throughout the country and which the US — and much of the international community — declared fraudulent.

On Thursday, Germany’s acting Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German parliament that the EU had decided to “expand and tighten its sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime” at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.

”Those people and companies actively involved in human trafficking will be further sanctioned, no matter where on the globe,” Maas said of the proposed sanctions, adding that there were “other options on the table,” including expanding current economic sanctions.

CNN’s Nadine Schmidt, Katharina Krebs, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Antonia Mortensen and Magda Chodownik and Anna Chernova contributed reporting.