Poland-Belarus: migrants resume their attempts to cross the border

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The thousands of stranded people are caught in the center of an escalating geopolitical conflict in which the European Union, the United States and NATO have accused Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of causing a migrant crisis in the country. eastern border of the EU to destabilize the bloc in retaliation for the sanctions. on human rights violations. His government denies the allegations and instead blames the West for dangerous, sometimes fatal, border crossings and the mistreatment of migrants.

Polish border guards said they recorded nearly 600 migrant crossings attempts on Tuesday, as well as “three large-scale efforts” on Wednesday night, with more than 100 migrants in each group trying to cross the fence.

Nine people were arrested and 48 people were immediately returned to Belarus, a border guard press secretary told reporters on Wednesday. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak told Polish radio that there was still a large group of people on the Belarusian side of the Kuznica border post, which authorities closed on Tuesday. A representative of the Polish border guards had previously told CNN that some of the migrants had been pushed towards the barriers by Belarusian services.

In several videos from Polish authorities this week, hundreds of migrants were seen heading for the border, some of whom were shown in a clip using shovels, wire cutters and brute force in an attempt to break through the barriers .

Błaszczak added that a migrant camp in Kuznica had also split into smaller groups, without giving any figures.

Journalists and aid workers have been prevented from reaching the region by an exclusion zone set up after Poland recently declared a state of emergency. Only local residents are allowed to enter the area after presenting identification documents.

Several of those living inside the area told CNN that the increased presence of military police and border guards had been noticeable and that they were not seeing more migrants than normal. Polish human rights activists said the deployment of additional troops appeared to have sealed the border near Kuznica, as they had not received any calls from migrants seeking help in the past three days.

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have seen a wave of people trying to enter their countries from Belarus in recent months. Many migrants – most of them from the Middle East and Asia – hope to travel from Poland deeper into Europe. Lithuania declared a state of emergency for one month on Tuesday, which went into effect at midnight on Wednesday.

In an attempt to deter migrants, the Polish government sent text messages to foreign mobile phone numbers in the border area: “The Polish border is sealed. BLR [Belarus] the authorities have told you lies. Go back to Minsk! ”It ends with a warning to migrants against taking pills from Belarusian soldiers, referring to a claim by Polish officials that a migrant was given a tablet before he fell ill and died.

Polish border guard press secretary Katarzyna Zdanowicz said the situation in the Kuznica region was calm on Wednesday and the migrants received hot food and drinks from the Belarusian military overnight.

Zdanowicz estimated the number of migrants camped along the border at around 4,000, citing estimates from border guards. It does not rule out the possibility that more people are heading to the border area from other parts of Belarus.

The Belarusian Border Committee, which is responsible for the country’s external borders, said on Tuesday that there were around 2,000 migrants at the scene.

Several Polish officials accused Belarus of aiding migrants in their attempts to cross the border. Deputy Interior Minister Bartosz Grodecki told Polish media on Wednesday that migrants are “constantly transported to the border by Belarusian services”.

Grodecki also claimed that “besides Belarusian services, there are probably also representatives of Russian services” among the crowds of migrants trying to cross the border.

The standoff at the Polish-Belarusian border continues, as fears of potential violence escalate.

Diplomatic blame game

In an escalating war of words, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has claimed that Moscow is the puppeteer behind the scenes at the border and that Minsk is operating under the direction of the Kremlin.

Speaking to the Polish parliament on Tuesday, Morawiecki asserted that “the security of our eastern border is brutally violated today by a ruthless dictator who wants revenge on Poland and Europe for opposing violations of human rights. human rights in Belarus. But we know his revenge is controlled from Moscow. “

“Russia’s neo-imperial policy is a fact. We are monitoring the next steps of Lukashenko’s employer – who is President Putin. This is his scenario of rebuilding the Russian Empire. A scenario that all Poles face must resist with all their might together. “

The EU accuses Belarus of acting as a
Also on Tuesday, the European Commission accused Belarus of acting like a “gangster regime” and criticized Lukashenko’s “false promises” that it lured migrants to the border thinking they would gain “easy entry. in the EU “. Senior Commission spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Peter Stano said the bloc was likely to impose further sanctions on Belarus.

Belarus, which has denied all allegations, said on Wednesday it was seeking a “joint response” with Russia to “hostile actions” by EU states.

According to Belarusian state media BelTA, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei claimed that the West was abusing the topic of human rights to exert political pressure. At a press conference following talks between Russian and Belarusian foreign ministers in Moscow, Makei said “a large-scale, complex aggression has been unleashed against Belarus”, which cannot go unanswered. .

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that “Poland’s unsuccessful attempts to transfer responsibility for the dynamic development of the migration situation to Belarus appear rather fragile,” warning the Polish side against ” Provocation”.

Hundreds of migrants camp on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland near Kuznica in this photo released Wednesday by the Polish Defense Ministry.

Migrants caught in the middle

Aid groups have also previously criticized the Polish nationalist government for its treatment of migrants at the border, where they face grueling conditions as temperatures drop overnight and a lack of food and medical care is available. Human rights groups have also accused Polish authorities of multiple illegal push-backs – a claim border officials rejected, arguing instead that they were acting in accordance with government regulations.

Save the Children Europe director Anita Bay said the situation at the border was “against EU laws and values” and states must ensure the safety of migrants and refugees stranded in refugee camps. fortune in a statement released Tuesday.

Temperatures often drop overnight, leaving migrants camped in freezing cold with little access to food and water.

“Children stranded near the border with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia since the end of August struggle with hypothermia, exhaustion and hunger, while their mental and physical health has deteriorated due to their perilous journeys and the long situation in which they find themselves. face, ”Bay said. “We have seen images of entire families sent back to Belarus, and their demand for international protection and immediate assistance ignored.”

Bay said it was “unacceptable for the lives of children and their families to be used as bargaining chips in a regional conflict” before calling on the EU to provide access “so they can seek protection international “.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated Washington’s support for Poland on Tuesday, saying that “The United States will continue to support Poland and all our partners in Europe who have been threatened by the actions. unacceptable from Belarus “.

Journalist Magda Chodownik reported from Sokolka, Poland, while Antonia Mortensen of CNN reported from Milan, Italy, and Lauren Said-Moorhouse wrote from London. CNN’s Fred Pleitgen, Radina Gigova, Stephanie Halasz and Katharina Krebs also contributed to this report.


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