European Union foreign ministers are considering ways to stop the illegal flow of migrants into the 27-nation bloc from neighbouring Belarus, including stopping companies from leasing jets to Belarusian airline Belavia.
Several EU leaders have accused the government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of facilitating migration into the EU in retaliation for EU sanctions.
Thousands of migrants have been lured to Belarus on tourist visas and encouraged to cross into Poland, Lithuania and to a lesser extent Latvia, all three EU nations that border Belarus.
"Even though the situation seems under control, the flows are actually not diminishing," said Lithuanian foreign affairs minister Gabrielius Landsbergis upon arrival at Monday's meeting.
"What tools do countries like Lithuania, Latvia and Poland need to use, or can use, in order to stop the weaponised migration that is being forced on the European Union?"
The migrant influx began a year ago after the EU slapped sanctions on Lukashenko's government over the August 2020 presidential election, which the West views as rigged, and the security crackdown on the Belarusian opposition and peaceful protesters that followed.
Landsbergis said the EU needs to find an efficient way to stop new flights from North Africa and Middle East from flying to Minsk.
"The European Union did take some steps that proved to be quite useful: stopping the flights from Iraq, and stopping the flights from Jordan and Lebanon. But there are a number of new flights that are being opened up to fly to Minsk."
Landsbergis asked for sanctions on Lukashenko for exploiting vulnerable people, and against Belavia. He also urged the bloc to send a clear message to companies carrying people to Belarus who have the intention to migrate that they are on the EU's radar.
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, whose country is a hub for aircraft leasing, said he is open to a new round of sanctions targeting individuals in Belarus. Coveney, however, insisted that ending existing leasing contracts could be difficult from a legal standpoint.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Lukashenko "is nothing more than the head of a state smuggling company," adding that ministers will need to make clear to airlines that such a practice is not tolerated.
Australian Associated Press