New EU routes via Belarus lead to rise in illegal border crossings

Warsaw, Oct. 22, (dpa/GNA) - Poland's border guards have arrested 14 suspected couriers in the past 24 hours for allegedly helping migrants cross the border into Belarus.

Among them were two Germans who were transporting 34 Iraqis in a van, the border guard's spokeswoman told the PAP news agency on Friday.

The other couriers reportedly came from Poland, Syria, Uzbekistan, Italy, Romania, Georgia and Iran. All are being investigated for aiding and abetting the organization of an illegal border crossing.

In the border region of Podlachia, more than 160 couriers carrying refugees have been arrested so far.

Germany is one of the countries dealing with an influx of illegal crossings, the German federal government said, pointing to the new routes.

Talks with government officials in Iraq have had an effect, but they are watching very closely "which alternative routes are now being chosen," a Foreign Office spokesperson said in Berlin on Friday.

For example, an increase in direct flights from Beirut, Damascus and Amman to Belarus could be observed, in addition to flights via the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

The German Federal Police said almost 500 people entered Germany illegally on the new migration route via Belarus and Poland within two days.

As the authorities reported on Friday, a total of 3,751 cases were recorded in the first three weeks of October. Just two days before, the number reported was 3,262.

Since the beginning of the year, the Federal Police registered 6,162 illegal entries via the Belarus route up to and including Thursday. The German-Polish border is a focal point.

The governments in Warsaw and in Berlin accuse Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately bringing refugees from crisis regions to the EU's external border.

Lukashenko had announced at the end of May that Minsk would no longer prevent migrants from travelling on to the EU - in response to tighter Western sanctions on the former Soviet republic.

According to Poland's border guards, there have been more than 12,000 attempts to cross the border illegally since the beginning of October.

The German government wants to ensure that airlines and tour operators outside Belarus can also be sanctioned if they are involved in smuggling.

Proposals to this effect are on the table in Brussels and efforts are being made to reach decisions on this matter as quickly as possible, said a spokesperson for the German Foreign Office.

This week, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had suggested to his Polish counterpart, Mariusz Kaminski, joint German-Polish patrols on the border, especially on the Polish side. The answer from Warsaw, however, remained vague.