Dictator Alexander Lukashenko has said he has no intention of halting the flow of undocumented migrants entering the EU via Belarus, as Brussels accused him of using illegal immigration as a “tool” to put pressure on the bloc.
Growing numbers of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East have been entering Europe across Belarus’s border with Lithuania in recent weeks.
Mr Lukashenko in May threatened to flood the EU with “drugs and migrants” in response to sanctions against his increasingly isolated regime.
This week he reiterated his promise after the EU was forced to deploy extra border guards to Lithuania.
“We will not hold anyone back. We are not their final destination…They are headed to enlightened, warm, cozy Europe,” Mr Lukashenko said.
On Tuesday, Lithuania said it had detained more than 130 migrants over 24 hours, more than the entire number of border crossings for 2020.
Charles Michel, the European Council President, said the EU was “not intimidated” by the threat, following a visit to the border region.
“We condemn the attempt made by certain third countries to use illegal migration as a tool to put political pressure on the European Union,” he told MEPs on Wednesday.
The Telegraph reported last month that hundreds of people were arriving in Minsk from Baghdad on several weekly flights. Belarusian authorities claimed they were coming to the country as tourists.
But Lithuania’s deputy foreign minister said that Minsk was regulating the influx as “a means of hostile hybrid warfare”.
“We’re dealing with a dictator who is increasingly on the edge of madness and is prepared to do absolutely insane and unspeakable things,” Mantas Adomenas told The Telegraph.
Mass protests broke out in Belarus last year after Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994, claimed victory in an election widely seen as rigged.
The regime responded to those protests with violence, and several top opposition figures were jailed or forced to leave the country.
The EU brought in sanctions following the brutal crackdown but Russia, a traditional ally of Belarus, offered the regime financial and political support.
Belarus has also faced EU condemnation after it forced a Ryanair plane to land while crossing through its airspace and arrested a prominent opposition figure on board.