Poland’s anti-migrant government refuses to allow Afghan migrants to leave border zone
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Poland of hypocrisy over the 32 Afghans trapped for over three weeks at the Belarus border, denying them access to food and medicine.
While almost 1,000 Afghan refugees were airlifted to Poland from Kabul and given access to the Polish asylum process, the migrants stuck in no-man’s land are being denied the opportunity to apply for asylum.
In June, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko warned that Belarus would stop border controls on migrants, drugs and nuclear material, accusing the European Union of encouraging regime change after he claimed to have won last year’s presidential election.
Poles are being prevented from handing over food and medicine to the migrants. The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Poland to allow aid to reach the group but Poland’s anti-migrant Law and Justice government has refused. The UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, has called on Warsaw to allow the 32 to apply for asylum.
“It’s totally inhumane,” said Polish opposition MP Franciszek Sterczewski. He featured in the news in late August when Polish border guards caught him trying to take supplies to the migrants.
Belarus has been handing out tourist visas and encouraging people from war-torn countries to reach the Polish border in response to EU sanctions.
Sterczewski says Poland’s new state of emergency for the Belarus border aims to cut access to migrants to end the growing publicity and allow them to be driven back east without witnesses.
Poland’s emergency orders limit journalists, lawyers and human rights activists from entering a 3km buffer zone along the 400km frontier.
“It’s only to hide the illegal activities of our forces,” Sterczewski said.
Fundacja Ocalenie, a Polish NGO trying to help the migrants, announced what was happening to the Afghans using a loudspeaker over the heads of the Polish police.
“We lack words to describe the meanness of the Polish authorities,” the organisation tweeted. “But we had to find the words to tell the people we are fighting for that we must leave them today. We also said that we will not stop fighting for them.”
Kalina Czwarnóg of Fundacja Ocalenie said the migrants told the organisation they left Afghanistan by truck for Belarus in a journey that lasted around 25 days.
They spent around 11 days in the border zone before Fundacja Ocalenie brought them tents, Czwarnóg told the Washington Post.
HRW said: “Unfortunately, the plight of the Afghans stuck at the border is just the tip of the iceberg. Reliable media reports say Polish border guards increasingly, and unlawfully, push people back across the border to Belarus, sometimes using excessive force. Pushbacks are illegal under international and EU law, as any removal from territory should only take place after due process is followed.”
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