Belarus says around 7,000 migrants now in the country

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Migrants aiming to cross into Poland camp on the Belarusian-Polish border on November 18, 2021 (AFP/Maxim GUCHEK)

Belarus on Thursday said there were around 7,000 migrants in the ex-Soviet country, with around 2,000 of them camped on the border with EU member Poland.

Thousands of mainly Middle Eastern migrants are camped around the border in what the West says is revenge for sanctions slapped on Belarusian strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko's regime after it suppressed protests last year.

"The European Union is creating a humanitarian corridor for 2,000 refugees who are in the camp. We are taking on the responsibility of -- as much as it is possible and if they wish -- returning the 5,000 others to their homes," Lukashenko's spokeswoman Natalya Eismont said.

She said German Chancellor Angela Merkel would negotiate with the EU on creating the humanitarian corridor to Germany.

Berlin denied any agreement with Lukashenko on a possible humanitarian corridor.

"Germany did not agree to that. It is a European problem and Germany is not going it alone," a government source told AFP.

Speaking separately in Warsaw, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer also firmly put down any rumours that Germany would take in the 2,000 migrants.

He said he "immediately contacted" Merkel when he heard the claim, "and received the clear information that this was fake news".

Lukashenko has dismissed the accusation that he engineered the crisis and criticised the EU for not taking in the migrants.

This week he spoke twice by telephone with Merkel in his first call with a Western leader since last year.

On Wednesday, his office said direct talks between Belarus and the EU are imminent as agreed in his conversations with Merkel.

Germany, however, has not confirmed direct talks.

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