NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – The European Union remains firm on its sanctions regime against the authoritarian Belarusian president who is “pushing” migrants to the EU out of “desperation”, a senior bloc official said on Tuesday.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko “is not a partner with whom we are ready to cooperate” and that the 27-member bloc cannot accept his actions.

“We have seen that Lukashenko is a desperate person who is now under European Union sanctions and he cannot really cope with that,” Johansson said after talks with Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris.

“So he acts in… desperation, importing people for the sole purpose of sending or pushing them into the European Union. And of course, we cannot accept that. “

EU members Poland and Lithuania have welcomed an unusual number of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, as well as refugees arriving from neighboring Belarus in recent months.

The influx of migrants began after Western countries introduced sanctions against Lukashenko’s government following the disputed August 2020 presidential election and a crackdown on the opposition.

The Polish and Lithuanian governments have established a state of emergency on kilometer-wide (over half a mile wide) strips along their border with Belarus that prohibit entry to anyone, to with the exception of border guards, the army and the security services. They are also building razor wire fences along their border with Belarus.

At least five migrants have died trying to enter Poland and Lithuania from Belarus through an area of ​​thick woods and peat bogs.

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