More than 11,000 illegal migrants have entered Germany this year after transiting through Poland from Belarus, German police said on December 27.
The EU accuses Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime of funneling mostly Middle Eastern migrants to the borders of Poland and fellow EU members Latvia and Lithuania as part of a “hybrid attack” to retaliate for Western sanctions.
Most of the illegal migrants are seeking to reach Germany, which has stepped up police checks along the passport-free border with Poland in recent months.
German federal police said in a statement that there had been 11,162 illegal entries “with a connection to Belarus” this year, with more than 95 percent of those cases occurring between August and November.
Police said there is a downward trend in illegal border crossings, with 470 cases in December compared to more than 8,000 in October and November combined.
Under German law, migrants who apply for asylum are allowed to stay in the country pending the processing of their claim for protection.
The drop in migrant crossings in December may reflect a change of policy in Belarus after Lukashenka’s regime was hit with a fifth EU sanctions package that also put pressure on third-countries to stop migrant flows.
Belarusian authorities have cleared makeshift migrant camps at the border and transferred about 2,000 people to a warehouse turned into shelter. Several thousand Iraqis have also returned home on repatriation flights amid reports they suffered violence or threats and horrible conditions at border camps.
Poland has also taken steps in response to the migrant crisis, including building a barbed wire fence and massing thousands of soldiers along its 400-kilometer border with Belarus. In some cases, Warsaw has been accused of pushing back migrants to Belarus, in a policy criticized by human rights groups.
The EU, United States, and partners first expanded sanctions on Belarus after Lukashenka cracked down the country’s pro-democracy movement following a disputed August 2020 presidential election.