EU eyes visa retaliation to halt migrant influx from Belarus

September 29, 2021 05:43 pm | Updated 05:43 pm IST - BRUSSELS

In this Sep. 9, 2021 file photo, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a news conference.

In this Sep. 9, 2021 file photo, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a news conference.

As allegations mount that Belarus is using migrants to destabilise the European Union, the bloc’s executive branch proposed on Wednesday to tighten visa restrictions on members of President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

The European Commission wants the 27 EU member countries to consider suspending parts of a “visa facilitation agreement” with Belarus that entered force in July 2020. The deal was aimed at improving contacts and drawing the former Soviet country closer to Europe.

The proposal would hit Belarusian officials, including members of government, lawmakers, diplomatic delegations and top court representatives. It would increase travel red tape and require them to provide extra documents and pay more for visas.

In recent months, EU members Poland and Lithuania have been forced to cope with an unusually high number of migrants, primarily from Iraq and Afghanistan, arriving at their borders with Belarus. Poland even introduced a state of emergency which it aims to extend soon for another 60 days.

The migrant influx began a year ago, after the EU slapped sanctions on Mr. Lukashenko’s government over the August 2020 presidential election, which the West views as rigged, and the security crackdown on the opposition and peaceful protesters that followed.

The visa move must be endorsed by the 27 EU member countries to enter force.

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