Belarus says it will refuse to take back migrants until the EU lifts sanctions

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Belarus' parliament has voted to suspend an agreement with the European Union to take back migrants.

Lawmakers decided on Monday to halt the obligation on Belarus to re-admit migrants that crossed its territory into the EU.

The vote in the upper house of the Belarusian parliament formalises the move that was announced by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in June.

Interior Minister Ivan Kubrakov described the suspension of the agreement as a "temporary measure" and said that migrants would be readmitted once "relations normalise".

Lukashenko and his officials say the measure is part of Belarus’ response to the EU sanctions on Minsk.

The Belarusian President has stated that the country cannot afford the costs involved in stemming the flow of migrants heading to Europe and would instead use the funds to offset the impact of EU sanctions.

Neighbouring Poland and Lithuania have been struggling to cope with an unusually high number of migrants, most from Iraq and Afghanistan, arriving at their borders with Belarus in recent months.

The EU has accused Lukashenko of encouraging the flow of migrants and using them as a weapon in a "hybrid war" against the 27-nation bloc.

Poland has responded to the large-scale migration by deploying troops, refusing to let migrants apply for asylum, and pushing some back across the border into Belarus.

A deputy foreign minister also said on Monday that the Polish government is working abroad to warn potential migrants that the country’s border with Belarus is sealed.

"We want to help these people; hence, our diplomatic activity in these countries...and our warnings that they may fall victim to deception," Marcin Przydacz told AP.

"Lukashenko is taking revenge against the EU by unleashing a hybrid war and using refugees to openly blackmail European authorities" he added.

"Migration is part of a broad campaign of confrontation with the West pursued by the Belarusian authorities."

But the tough approach has drawn criticism from Polish human rights groups and the influential Roman Catholic Church.

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