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EU plans sanctions against companies that help smuggle migrants

 
Brussels, Nov 24 (IANS) The European Commission has proposed targeted measures to hit transport companies that are said to have helped smuggle people into the European Union (EU) via Belarus, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced.

Addressing the European Parliament on Tuesday, von der Leyen said the measures would blacklist any transport company involved in helping move migrants from accessing EU airspace, landing at airports, arriving at ports or crossing EU territory, Xinhua news agency reported.

"There are specialized travel agents offering all-inclusive deals: visas, flights, hotels and, somewhat cynically, taxis and buses up to the border. Let us be very clear: these migrants are being vilely misled by false promises," she said.

Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said the situation was the result of people being "sold a lie" by international smuggling networks. "This is not a migration threat or crisis, this is a security one, so we have to deal with it as such," Schinas added.

If adopted, the measures would add to the pressure on Belarus to ease the migrant crisis across EU countries that border Belarus, including Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko called on the EU to cooperate with Minsk to resolve the months-long migrant crisis that has left more than 10 people dead.

Since August, thousands of migrants, most of them from war-torn countries in the Middle East, were stranded at the border between Belarus and its neighbors, seeking to enter the EU territory. However, more migrants arrived at the Belarusian side of the border with Poland earlier this month.

Clashes broke out last week between Polish soldiers using water cannons and migrants throwing stones. Similar tensions also occurred on Belarus's borders with Latvia and Lithuania.

Putin and Lukashenko expressed "serious concern over the unacceptable, brutal actions" of the Polish border guards against the migrants, said a statement issued by the Kremlin.

The EU has been blaming Belarus for the crisis, while Minsk has denied the accusation and said it is ready for talks.

--IANS
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