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story.lead_photo.caption Migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere gather in front of the barbed wire at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno Grodno, Belarus, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. Hundreds if not thousands of migrants sought to storm the border from Belarus into Poland on Monday, cutting razor wire fences and using branches to try and climb over them. The siege escalated a crisis along the European Union's eastern border that has been simmering for months. (Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA via AP)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — European Union officials Wednesday accused Belarus of state-sponsored “trafficking” of human lives by luring desperate migrants to the Polish border — the edge of the EU — where many are now stuck in makeshift camps in freezing weather.

As the crisis showed no sign of easing, an EU leader also said the bloc was, for the first time, considering the idea of funding the construction of a wall or some other barrier on its eastern border. That idea has always been rejected before and still faces many political and humanitarian obstacles.

Polish authorities estimate about 3,000-4,000 migrants have gathered along its border with Belarus, with hundreds concentrated in one makeshift camp not far from the Kuznica crossing. Warsaw has bolstered security at the frontier, where it has declared a state of emergency.

Polish authorities have tweeted video of migrants, some using shovels and wire cutters, trying to break through a fence on the border to enter Poland.

The West has accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of encouraging migrants from the Middle East to travel to his country and sending them toward EU members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia as a way to retaliate against the bloc for sanctions imposed on the authoritarian regime for its crackdown on internal dissent since a disputed election in 2020.

Belarus denies the allegations, but has said it will no longer stop migrants and others seeking to enter the EU.

“From a distance, these events on the Polish-Belarusian border may look like a migration crisis, but this is not a migration crisis, it is a political crisis triggered with the special purpose of destabilizing the situation in the European Union,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in Berlin that Minsk is engaged in “state-run smuggling and trafficking … happening 100 percent at the expense of the people who are lured into the country with false promises.”

Poland said Russia bears some responsibility for the crisis, given its staunch backing of Lukashenko. Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, also accused Lukashenko of “using people’s fates — with the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin — to destabilize the West.”

Merkel spoke by phone Wednesday with Putin.

“I asked him to exert his influence on President Lukashenko, because people are being used here,” she said.

“They are victims of an inhuman policy, and something must be done against this,” Merkel said in Meseberg, near Berlin. Speaking ahead of a meeting with Latvian and Portuguese leaders, Merkel thanked Poland, Lithuania and Latvia for protecting the EU’s external borders.

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins added “it is what I would call a state-sponsored human trafficking, which is affecting directly my country, Lithuania and Poland.”

The Kremlin’s account of the call with Merkel said Putin proposed a discussion between “representatives of EU member states and Minsk.” It also said Putin and Merkel “agreed to continue the conversation.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected suggestions by Morawiecki that Moscow has any responsibility in the crisis, calling them “absolutely irresponsible and unacceptable.” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also has suggested the EU give Belarus financial aid to stop the migrant flow.

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