With the migrant crisis in Belarus still unresolved, Ukrainian border guards have staged a joint exercise near the frontier town of Ovruch to practice their response if groups of asylum seekers attempt to cross into the country.
It’s unclear why Kiev is concerned, given the fact Ukraine, Europe’s second-poorest country, is not a member of the European Union, and is better known for mass emigration, rather than issues around immigration.
On Thursday, alongside National Guard and National Police members, the Border Guard held the exercise in line with the country’s “Stranger in the Village” alert system, which encourages local residents to inform the authorities when an unknown person without knowledge of the Ukrainian language is spotted. A large percentage of Ukrainian citizens are not fluent in the tongue, however, and speak Russian instead.
The exercise comes as thousands of refugees from the Middle East remain stuck in Belarus, near the frontier with Poland. Many of them came to the country in the hope of entering the European Union, but Polish border guards have refused to let anyone through, and have aggressively pushed the migrants back. Now Kiev is worried that the asylum seekers may attempt to cross into Ukraine.
According to Igor Klymenko, the head of the National Police, all regions bordering Belarus will practice dealing with a possible influx of illegal immigrants.
“First of all, we have to make sure that our border is protected and our citizens are safe,” Klymenko said. “Large forces of law enforcement agencies have been brought in to protect the state border at a time when several thousand migrants are in Belarus.”
The migrant crisis began in June when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his government would no longer help the EU stop illegal immigration. He stands accused by Brussels of “weaponizing” migrants by flying them into his country and transporting them to the border, allegedly as part of a “hybrid war” against the West. The situation got significantly worse on November 8, when several thousand refugees approached the Polish border from Belarus and refused to leave the area for a fortnight. In the past week, some have been moved to a transport and logistics center, while a handful have flown back to their home countries.
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