Poland says Belarus lets migrants cross border in 'hybrid war' with EU


WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland accused Belarus of sending a growing number of migrants over the border in retaliation for Warsaw's decision this week to give refuge to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics.

A deputy interior minister, Maciej Wasik, said on Thursday that Minsk was "waging a hybrid war with the European Union with the help of illegal immigrants".

In recent weeks, neighbouring Lithuania has reported a surge in illegal border crossings from Belarus and said Minsk was flying in migrants from abroad and dispatching them into the EU.

"There are both young men and women with children. Belarus is using these immigrants as a living weapon," Maciej Wasik told online broadcaster Telewizja wPolsce.

"In recent days we have seen an increase (in migrants), we treat it as a reaction to the granting of asylum to the Belarusian sprinter."

Tsimanouskaya's Cold War-style defection has ratcheted up tensions with Minsk at a time when the EU has accused President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants to hit back against EU sanctions.

The Polish Border Guard said that on Wednesday it had detained 62 migrants, mostly Iraqis, on the border with Belarus. The Border Guard told Reuters by email in July that in 2020 it had detained a total of 114 illegal migrants on that border.

Wasik said the migrants arriving recently had mainly been from Iraq, but also from Afghanistan.

The Polish Border Guard and interior ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

The EU has summoned the Belarusian envoy in Brussels and held talks with the Iraqi government over the issue of illegal migration to the bloc.

(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Agnieszka Barteczko, writing by Alan Charlish, Editing by William Maclean)

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