Polish contractors began work on a 353 million euro wall along the Belarusian border on Tuesday (January 25) aimed at deterring migrants from crossing following a crisis in the region last year.
The 5.5 meter high wall will stretch 186 kilometers (115 miles) from the border – almost half the total length – and is due to be completed in June.
“As expected, the sites were handed over to the contractors on Tuesday,” said Krystyna Jakimik-Jarosz, spokeswoman for the border guards.
She declined to reveal the exact locations “for security reasons”.
“Belarusian services are just waiting for this to send migrants to the site,” Jakimik-Jarosz told AFP.
She said the 353 million euro ($407 million) wall would be equipped with cameras and motion sensors.
The construction has raised human rights concerns about how migrants will be able to seek asylum, as well as environmental concerns about the effect on wildlife along the mostly forested border.
“We will do everything we can to keep the damage to the environment and animals to a minimum,” Jakimik-Jarosz said.
Thousands of migrants – mostly from the Middle East – crossed or attempted to cross the border between Belarus and Poland last year.
The West blamed the influx on the Belarusian regime, saying it had encouraged would-be migrants to travel to Belarus with the promise of an easy journey on foot to the European Union.
– ‘Hybrid’ attack –
Poland has called the migrant crisis a “hybrid” attack by Belarus and its main ally Russia, referring to a type of warfare using non-military tactics.
Belarus has denied this and accused Poland of inhumane treatment of migrants.
It has since repatriated thousands of migrants to Iraq, the main country of origin.
At the height of the crisis last year, Poland sent thousands of troops and police to the border to bolster border guard patrols.
He also built a barbed wire fence along much of the border and closed the border area to media and human rights groups, while approving a new law allowing the forced return of migrants in Belarus.
Jakimik-Jarosz said the barbed wire fence helped border guards.
“It bought us time to prepare when a group of migrants was about to attack, to create an opening. We had time to mobilize the necessary means and personnel to stop them,” she said.
Although the number of crossings has fallen sharply since then, some still attempt the increasingly perilous crossing despite the icy conditions.
The Border Guard Service said on Twitter on Tuesday that there had been 17 crossings in the past 24 hours.
A group of 14 people – 11 Iranians, two Lebanese and one Syrian – “cut through the barbed wire fence and entered Poland”, border guards said.
They were arrested, border guards said, along with a separate group of three people from Ghana who crossed to another part of the border.