Statement by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the situation along the Belarus border:
The images and events we are witnessing along the Belarus border are appalling. Mr Lukashenko is continuing to escalate a dangerous situation, for which he himself has no way out. He is cold-bloodedly using people who are seeking refuge, making them hostages in a cynical play for power. He is consciously ramping up pressure on the entire EU and individual EU member states such as Poland and Lithuania – and thereby just as consciously placing the lives of the affected individuals at risk, who to him are no more than pawns in his ploy.
But the European Union will not be held hostage. With the steps we’ve implemented in recent months, we have already made clear that we are taking decisive action against the perfidious and inhuman behaviour of Mr Lukashenko and his allies. We will remain steadfastly on this course together, with full determination and in pursuit of the following aims:
1. Provide humanitarian aid for the people. We will not abandon anyone who is in need; this is one of the fundamental values on which every European country is built, and we will also uphold these common values along the EU’s external borders. Various humanitarian organisations are ready to help, both in Belarus and in Poland.
2. Stop the illegal smuggling of migrants. No one who is involved in Lukashenko’s inhuman activities should go unpunished. We are sending this message to the countries of origin and transit, as well as to the airlines that are being used to shuttle people to Belarus. And the message is being heard, because we as the EU are prepared to take decisive action.
3. Expand and tighten EU sanctions against the Lukashenko regime. We will impose sanctions on all those who are participating in the targeted smuggling of migrants. Lukashenko must be brought to recognise that his strategy will not succeed. This by the way does not exclude extending sanctions to other sectors of the economy, as well.
4. Public messaging in the countries of origin. We must expose the false promises that refugees are falling for, paying thousands of dollars only to be stranded in Belarusian forests. And here, too, we must fully expose the consequences that Lukashenko’s actions are having for every individual.