EU readies sanctions against Belarus transport
The European Union will impose sanctions on Belarus’ airline and on international firms involved in migrant trafficking, in response to the crisis on Poland’s border, top officials said Tuesday.
The sanctions package will be approved by member states in the coming days, but European Council chief Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen revealed details to MEPs.
Von der Leyen, addressing the European Parliament, accused Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s regime of mounting a “hybrid attack against the EU” by funnelling Middle Eastern migrants towards Poland.
She said her commission would draw up a sanctions “blacklist” of travel and transport firms involved in trafficking migrants into the bloc, for approval by parliament and member states.
“We propose rules to blacklist all means and modes of transport involved in trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants,” she said.
She added that the measures would be coordinated with Britain, Canada and the United States.
Also addressing the MEPs, Michel said that Belarus airline Belavia, which leases most of its planes from firms in EU member states, notably Ireland, would be targeted.
“We will not allow the Belarus regime to intimidate us and to undermine our values and our unity,” he said, giving only “one example” of the sanctions on their way.
– Squalid, freezing conditions –
“The majority of the fleet of Belavia are aircraft leased from EU companies, this will be halted when the decision is taken, which is imminent,” he said.
Adina Valean, EU commissioner for transport, told reporters that a transport operator or travel agent could be listed for up to a year, and that this could be renewed if necessary.
“Those operators found to be in breach of the rules may have their right to operate in the EU suspended or limited, may be denied the right to fly over the EU, to call at EU ports or make technical stops within the EU or they may be banned from transiting throughout our territory,” she said.
Several Middle Eastern airlines have already halted or reduced flights to Minsk since Brussels complained that migrants were being lured to Belarus with false promises of a route into EU member Poland.
The migrants, many fleeing war and poverty, have spent thousands to fly into Belarus on tourist visas. Once at the Polish border, they are faced with a razor wire barrier and squalid, freezing conditions.
The West accuses Belarus of engineering the crisis in revenge for sanctions slapped on Lukashenko’s regime after its brutal suppression of protests against his rule.
“Lukashenko wanted to put pressure on us, in order to make us to cancel the sanctions,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
“I think that he has missed the game because what he has got is a new round of sanctions. And now he will have to contribute and to take care of these people who are on his territory in order to give them dignified treatment.”
The migrants say they want to get to Germany via Poland and Lukashenko has said that he is ready to send them there by plane if necessary, while accusing Brussels of refusing to negotiate their fate.