The UN human rights office says Belarus and Poland force migrants and refugees across their borders, often leaving them cold and without food, clean water or safe shelter.
The UN agency on December 21 called on the two countries to remedy the “appalling situation” and alleviate the “dire conditions” for those along the border, saying some of them are threatened or beaten by Belarusian security forces.
The European Union accuses Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka of bringing in migrants and channeling them to the borders of the member states of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania in response to sanctions imposed by the bloc following radical repression since the disputed presidential election last year.
Refugees and migrants interviewed by a United Nations human rights team visiting Poland in late November and early December said they had suffered violence or threats in Belarus and were left hungry and cold, said one. UN spokesperson.
“Interviewees described dire conditions on both sides of the border, with little or no access to food, clean water and shelter, often in freezing temperatures,” Elizabeth Throssell told reporters.
She added that most of them said that in Belarus they had been beaten or threatened by the security forces.
“Several interviewees said Belarusian security forces demanded exorbitant sums for food and water,” Throssell said.
Belarus has denied causing a border crisis and blames the EU for the humanitarian catastrophe along its borders.
The UN human rights office said the two countries had barred its staff from entering the border area. While in Poland, the UN team interviewed people who had crossed the border in recent months.
Belarus has not allowed its teams to visit the country, the UN said.
A spokesperson for Polish special services said his country was acting within the law and its actions were being taken to protect the country’s borders.
“The migratory route, controlled and organized by Belarusian services, is just a tool used by the Minsk regime,” said Stanislaw Zaryn.
Poland has taken action in response to the migrant crisis, including building a barbed wire fence and massing thousands of soldiers along its 400-kilometer border with Belarus.
Throssell said many migrants and refugees had crossed the border several times in both directions due to “the practices of both countries of pushing people to or across the border.”