MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus has sent some 2,000 migrants back to their countries as part of efforts to stop illegal migration, its foreign minister said on Friday, as Minsk faces accusations of encouraging the migrants to cross into Poland and Lithuania via its territory.
Vladimir Makei said Belarus had revoked the right of 30 tourist firms to invite migrants “just about a month ago”, according to transcript of a news conference published by his ministry.
“We have detained around 700 violators at the border. We have turned back around 2,000 people who came from other countries and did not have proper documents,” he said, without elaborating.
It was not clear whether those detained or turned back included any who arrived in Belarus in more recent weeks as the migrant crisis has rapidly escalated along the Belarusian borders with EU member states Poland and Lithuania.
The EU accuses Minsk of creating the crisis as part of a “hybrid attack” on the bloc – distributing Belarusian visas in the Middle East, flying in the migrants and pushing them to cross the border illegally.
Minsk denies the accusation.
Thousands of migrants from the Middle East are currently sheltering in freezing conditions in the woods on the border. Some have already died.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, writing by Maria Kiselyova; editing by Diane Craft and Gareth Jones)