The Foreign Secretary will also be discussing Belarus with NATO partners today.
We remain deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Belarus. The UK has imposed over 100 sanctions designations. The action by Lukashenko to engineer a migrant crisis is an attempt to undermine Poland and others in the region. The Prime Minister emphasised our commitment to Poland’s security when he met the Polish Prime Minister last Friday. The UK will continue to work closely with our partners in holding Lukashenko to account.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. The situation in Belarus is truly disturbing. More than a year on from the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus, over 30,000 people have been detained, with widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and hundreds of civil society activists and human rights defenders being detained. What can my hon. Friend do for those who are detained—for example, Mikita Zalatarou, who was just 16 when he was arrested, and has allegedly been tortured and kept in solitary confinement?
We are appalled by reports that there are now over 850 political prisoners in Belarus, and we strongly urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those held on political grounds. We are supporting mechanisms through the UN, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and independent non-governmental organisations to investigate human rights violations in Belarus and hold those responsible to account. As I said earlier, we have also taken direct action through over 100 sanctions designations.
The Minister will have seen the appalling scenes on the Polish-Belarus border and the way the brutal dictator Lukashenko is instigating hybrid warfare against Poland by using these vulnerable refugees in trying to get them across the border. Will she give me an assurance that our Government are doing everything possible to help our Polish allies stand up against this absolutely appalling conduct by the Belarus authorities?
I completely agree, and the UK is absolutely standing side by side with Poland. The UK and Poland have a long history of friendship and are NATO allies. Already a small team of UK armed forces have been deployed, following agreement with the Polish Government. They are exploring how we can provide engineering support to address the ongoing situation at the Belarus border. The UK regularly deploys military personnel to work with partners and allies across the world. The UK also led on a G7 statement condemning the Belarusian regime’s orchestration of irregular migration across the border, and as I have said, this will be discussed in Riga today.
The House is obviously united in its condemnation of the dictatorship in Belarus and the illegitimacy of the role of the so-called President Lukashenko. However, in the past, sanctions regimes imposed by other European countries and our own have been eroded for very little in return, and the stranglehold of Lukashenko is still there. Will the Minister guarantee that we will work with the EU and the world community, and maintain sanctions until such time as they are genuinely effective in changing this regime?
We have already imposed over 100 sanctions designations, including on Lukashenko himself. We are absolutely committed to supporting the people of Belarus, and we stand together to impose costs on this regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments. The sanctions are imposed under our human rights sanctions regime as well. We keep all potential listings under close review, and we obviously continue to discuss these issues with international partners.
What assessment have the Minister and the Government made of Lukashenko’s statement in the past couple of days that, in any furthering and deepening of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Minsk will not stand by and be neutral? Would that not be bad not just for people in Ukraine, but for those in Belarus?
As Belarus’s closest ally, Russia is uniquely placed to exert pressure on the Belarusian authorities to end their campaign of repression and to engage in this dialogue, and we urge Russia to do so. There must be a transparent and peaceful process to allow Belarusians to determine their own future, and we want to see a reformed Belarus that has a good relationship with Russia and other European partners, but we have been consistently clear in engaging Russia with the fact that violence, harassment and arbitrary detention must stop.
The weaponisation of vulnerable refugees seeking to escape conflict in the middle east by Belarus is a gross infringement of their human rights. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to raise and express international concern at this gross abuse?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about abuse and humanitarian issues. We are supporting humanitarian partners to help alleviate the suffering of migrants at the border, including through our contributions to the disaster relief emergency fund, organised by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. We are also president of the G7, and on 18 November the Foreign Ministers signed a statement, on which we led, calling on the Belarusian regime to provide the international organisations with immediate and unhindered access so that humanitarian assistance can be delivered.