Poland has accused Belarus of sending a growing number of migrants over the border in retaliation for Warsaw’s decision this week to give refuge to Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics and arrived in Warsaw overnight under Polish diplomatic protection.
A deputy interior minister, Maciej Wasik, said on August 5 that Minsk was “waging a hybrid war with the European Union with the help of illegal immigrants.”
“There are both young men and women with children. Belarus is using these immigrants as a living weapon,” 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,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from officials in the Belarusian government.
Tsimanouskaya’s decision to defect has ratcheted up tensions with Minsk at a time when the European Union has accused President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of using migrants to hit back against EU sanctions.
The EU on August 5 summoned the Belarusian envoy to protest a refugee problem that Minsk has orchestrated in response to EU sanctions.
In recent weeks, neighboring and fellow EU member state 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.
Lithuanian and European officials say the migrant flows are being orchestrated by Alyaksandr Lukashenka in retaliation for EU sanctions over his government’s crackdown on the opposition following Belarus’s presidential election nearly a year ago that was widely regarded as fraudulent.