Poland has warned of a possible armed escalation along its border with Belarus as thousands of migrants attempt to cross the border into the European Union.
The Polish government accused Belarus of directing migrants to the border as part of a campaign of ‘hybrid war’. It is estimated that thousands of migrants are camping at the border near the Polish village of Kuznica. Several people tried to break down razor wire fences on Tuesday using shovels and bolt cutters. Border guards fired pepper spray and tear gas.
Polish authorities said they had detained dozens of migrants. “In the last 24 hours, we had 309 illegal attempts to cross the border. The border guard issued 85 orders for one person to leave the territory of Poland. Seventeen foreigners were detained and will have to go through an administrative process, ”Polish Border Guard spokeswoman Katarzyna Zdanovi told reporters on Tuesday.
It is not clear whether the detained migrants have applied for asylum in Poland, which is their right under international law.
The migrants are from Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa – mostly young men, but also some women and children. In footage broadcast on Belarusian state television that could not be independently verified by the VOA, one expatriate said they did not want to stay in Poland. “Don’t go to Poland. We’re going to Germany. Germany is life. Not Poland,” he said. Germany is a common destination for many migrants entering Europe.
Poland and the European Union accused Minsk of weaponising them by inviting migrants to enter Belarus and sometimes by force to graze them across the border. Visiting the border area on Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki praised the work of 12,000 soldiers deployed by the government to defend the border.
“We know that this is a well-planned operation aimed at disrupting the sovereignty of our country. It is quite clear to us. We know for sure that there is a search for vulnerable spots (on the border), ”said Morawiecki.
“The regime of (Belarusian President Alexander) Lukashenko uses civilians as a weapon of a hybrid war. What we can see today are new methods, and you are an important stronghold to defend against these new methods,” said Prime The minister said.
Poland on Tuesday closed its main border with Belarus, the primary route of road traffic between northern Europe and Russia.
Belarus refuses to direct migrants to the border. President Alexander Lukashenko accused Poland of “taking arms”. It is clear that this is some sort of exercise or threat. Of course, we will face it without any worries,” he told state television.
Russia has extended its support for ally Belarus and has blamed EU migration policies for the situation at the border. At a news conference on Tuesday after talks with Vatican officials, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Europe to provide financial aid to Belarus.
“EU countries require consistent standards when it comes to accepting or rejecting refugees. Why, when refugees were coming from Turkey, did the EU allocate funds for them to stay in Turkey? Why is it impossible to help Belarusians in this way?”
The European Union says Belarus is retaliating for sanctions imposed in the wake of a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests following the disputed 2020 election, which Western observers say was rigged.
Dana Spinant, a spokesman for the European Commission, said on Tuesday: “The President (European Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen) very clearly demanded … Come on, it’s a dangerous trap, that people are being seduced by the regime in Minsk and brought to Belarus and pushed to the European Union. Borders are at their own risk and they are facing a really dangerous situation there. “
US State Department spokesman Ned Price echoed those concerns. “The United States strongly condemns the regime’s harsh and inhumane facilitation of the political exploitation of the Lukashenko regime and the forced and irregular migration of vulnerable people,” Price told reporters.
Poland has imposed a state of emergency in the border region, blocking access to refugee aid groups and journalists. Several migrants have already died at the border, while thousands are stranded in frigid temperatures with little food or water.
Polish analyst Piotr Buras of the European Council on Foreign Relations says Belarus is forcing Europe into a moral crisis.
“As Europeans, as human beings, we cannot ignore the tragedy of those who are trapped among Belarusian border guards on the one hand, who do not allow them to return to Minsk or their own country, Even if they want to – Belarusian border guards push those people to the Polish border and threaten them and use force against them – and on the other side, on the Polish border, there are Polish border guards who don’t let them in. ”
“Lukashenko is interested in placing the body on the Polish-Belarusian border because, from his point of view, it would compromise European values,” Buras told VOA.
Humanitarian organizations say Polish troops’ actions to repatriate lawful asylum seekers break European and international law. Poland says its action is legal.
In a joint statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) called for immediate de-escalation. “Given the alarming situation at the border, both sides must comply with their obligations under international law and guarantee the safety, dignity and protection of the rights of those stranded at the border,” the statement said.
Despite strained ties with Warsaw, the European Union said on Tuesday it had full support for Poland. The bloc said it was preparing to impose new sanctions against the Belarusian government.
Analyst Piotr Buras says Europe should also use diplomacy to stop migration at its source. “Lukashenko is bringing migrants from many countries by plane. These countries – many of them – are also dependent on good relations with the EU and it is absolutely unacceptable that they tolerate such behavior,” Buras told VOA.
Lithuania, which has seen an influx of migrants along with Latvia in recent months, has begun deploying more troops to its border with Belarus.