Refugees are seen at a camp near the Belarus-Polish border in the Grodno region of Belarus last Tuesday. Photo by Leonid Scheglov/EPA-EFE
Most of the migrants are from the Middle East and Africa, seeking to start a new life in Europe. Belarus and President Alexander Lukashenko have been accused of stoking the crisis as a means to ramp up pressure against Western European nations over existing sanctions.
Monday, the EU signed off on another set of economic punishment in an effort to stem the flow of refugees into the area. The new sanctions include airlines, travel agencies and other groups involved in taking migrants to the border area in Belarus.
A specific list of targets for the new sanctions is expected in the coming weeks.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc's decision shows its determination to oppose the use of migrants for "political purposes."
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (L) and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attend a partnership meeting on Monday on the sideline of the European Foreign Ministers Council in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE
Thousands of refugees have been stuck in limbo at the border for more than a week and are enduring increasingly difficult conditions, including colder weather.
The new sanctions are the latest of several rounds of economic punishment from the 27-member EU. The alliance previously levied sanctions over Belarus' disputed election last year that kept the authoritarian Lukashenko in power and the government's crackdown on peaceful protesters that followed.
Belarus has threatened to retaliate against new sanctions by shutting down pipelines from Russia that supply gas to Europe.