HAJNOWKA, POLAND (AFP) – Poland said on Saturday (November 20) that Belarus had changed tack in its border crisis by directing smaller groups of migrants to several points along the European Union’s eastern border.
Although there were signs of the crisis easing, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said he expected the border standoff to continue as Belarus said the situation remained ” tense ”.
Polish border guards reported further crossing attempts by several groups, mostly consisting of dozens of migrants, but also including a crowd of 200 people throwing stones and using tear gas.
“We have to prepare for the fact that this problem will continue for months on end. I have no doubt that it will be,” Blaszczak told RMF FM radio.
“Now a new method has been adopted by migrants and Belarusian services … Smaller groups of people are trying to cross the border in many places.”
He added that “there is no doubt that these attacks are directed by the Belarusian services”.
The West accuses Belarus of artificially creating the crisis by bringing in potential migrants – mostly from the Middle East – and bringing them to the border with the promise of easy passage to the European Union.
Belarus denied the claim, instead criticizing the EU for failing to welcome the migrants.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told the BBC on Friday that it was “entirely possible” that his forces had helped people enter the EU, but denied orchestrating the operation.
“We are Slavs. We have heart. Our troops know that migrants are going to Germany … Maybe someone has helped them,” he said.
“But I didn’t invite them here.
“A lot of things are missing”
The migrants abandoned everything in their country, spending thousands of dollars to travel to Belarus on tourist visas, determined to join the EU.
There were indications this week that the crisis was abating after the repatriation of several hundred migrants to Iraq, while 2,000 others left a makeshift border camp for a nearby logistics center.
Muluseu Mamo, a representative of the UN refugee agency in Belarus, visited the center on Saturday, saying that while conditions there were better than in the forest, “a lot is missing”.
“If you ask if these are good conditions to continue living, I would say no,” he told reporters, quoted by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, adding that the migrants complained lack of food, clothing and medical services.
Also on Saturday, Belarus’ health ministry said a World Health Organization mission had arrived in Belarus to help organize medical support for migrants.
The Yemeni foreign ministry said on Saturday it was working on the return of its citizens from the border, including eight on the Belarusian side and nine in Poland.
Polish border guards said there were 195 illegal crossing attempts on Friday, with 82 migrants ordered to leave Poland.
“The largest group consisted of around 200 foreigners, the rest each numbered several dozen,” the guards tweeted on Saturday.
“The foreigners were aggressive – they threw stones, firecrackers and used tear gas.”
The Belarusian state border committee, meanwhile, said “the situation at the border remains tense.”
“The violent and brutal attempts to expel refugees from the territories of neighboring EU member states continue,” the committee said on its Telegram channel.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic on Friday called the humanitarian situation “alarming” and called for an immediate end to controversial returns of migrants to Belarus through Poland.
“I have personally listened to the appalling accounts of the extreme suffering of desperate people (…) who have spent weeks, even months in sordid and extreme conditions in the cold and humid woods because of these pushbacks”, a- she said in a statement.
Several hundred people marched through central Warsaw on Saturday waving banners saying “Save the people at the border!” and shouting “No one is illegal”.
Polish mothers also organized a rally for migrants’ rights in the eastern town of Hajnowka, where they chanted “The forest is not a place for children”.
Polish media say at least 11 migrants have died since the crisis began this summer.
Poland this week celebrated its first funeral for one of the migrants – a Syrian teenager who drowned in the Bug border river – and two more funerals are planned.