European Union foreign ministers agreed on the fifth set of sanctions against Lukashenko’s govt since 2020, adding airlines, travel agents and others accused of helping bring refugees to Minsk.

The EU has accused Belarus of inviting migrants to Minsk with the promise of helping them cross into EU territory.
The EU has accused Belarus of inviting migrants to Minsk with the promise of helping them cross into EU territory. (AFP)

The European Union has agreed to toughen sanctions on Belarus over a refugee crisis at its borders, with the bloc expected to hit Belarusian individuals and entities with asset freezes and travel bans in coming days.

EU headquarters said on Monday that the bloc “will now be able to target individuals and entities organising or contributing to activities by the Lukashenko regime that facilitate illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders.”

“Today’s decision reflects the determination by the European Union to stand up to the instrumentalisation of migrants for political purposes. We are pushing back on this inhuman and illegal practice,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

The foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc were meeting on Monday to adopt new penalties over the crisis.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was quoted as saying on Monday that Minsk would retaliate against any new sanctions imposed on it by the West.

Lukashenko also said Belarus was working to send home the several thousand migrants, mostly from the Middle East.

READ MORE: EU, Belarus discuss migrant crisis as humanitarian situation worsens

'Sanctions spiral'

Europe accuses Belarus of mounting "a hybrid attack" by flying in migrants from countries like Syria and Afghanistan and pushing them to cross illegally into EU member Poland. 

Belarus has repeatedly denied the accusation.

Ahead of an EU foreign ministers' meeting, Germany's Heiko Maas said airlines could be told to stop transporting migrants to Minsk or face being banned from landing in Europe.

"We are nowhere near the end of the sanctions spiral," said Maas.

Arriving in Brussels, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the EU might help with repatriations from Belarus back to the Middle East.

He called for all Belarusian airports to be off-limits for airlines potentially carrying would-be migrants.

"We need to make Minsk airport a no-fly zone," said Landsbergis.

READ MORE: Explained: Migrant crisis on Poland-Belarus border

READ MORE: EU toughens visa process for Belarus officials as migrant crisis worsens

Source: TRTWorld and agencies