Tuesday

21st Sep 2021

Polish-Belarus asylum-seeker border standoff continues

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The standoff at the border between Poland and Belarus continues for a group of around 30 asylum seekers who have been stuck between the two countries for almost three weeks with no shelter or access to regular food supplies.

The group - which rights groups say includes Afghans and Iraqis - are prevented from entering Poland, while they are not being allowed back to Belarus. They have been stuck in no man's land along the border near the Polish village of Usnarz Górny.

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Poland's government argues that the migrants are on Belarus soil, which is responsible for them, and will not allow them walk the short distance into Poland to apply for asylum. But they are also not allowed back to Belarus.

Lithuania and Latvia have also seen dozens of asylum seekers arriving at their borders with Belarus, as the EU says it is being engineered by the Belarusian regime in retaliation against EU sanctions on Minsk.

In reaction, Poland has begun building a barbed wire fence along its border.

On Sunday, Poland arrested 13 activists who were trying to destroy part of a barbed-wire barrier, AP reported.

The activists said it was an act of protest against Warsaw authorities for what they believe is the "inhuman treatment" of migrants seeking to enter the EU and against what they described as an illegal pushback of asylum seekers.

Polish interior minister Mariusz Kaminski described the protestors' actions as "absolutely unacceptable" and said that those detained "will bear all the legal consequences of their actions."

The activists said that Poland should "defend the border against Lukashenko and Putin, not their victims".

Last week, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ordered Poland and Latvia to help the asylum seekers with "food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and, if possible, temporary shelter", adding that the court was not requiring them to "let the applicants enter their territories".

When asked about the EU Commission's position on the court order, commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said the EU executive does not comment on ECHR judgements on orders.

"Poland has committed to implementing the judgements and orders of ECHR. We are in close contact with Polish authorities to make sure this very difficult situation is managed in full compliance with all relevant obligation, and the appropriate way, taking into account also the way which it was cleated," he said.

The spokesperson said that "a very significant part of the difficulty of that situation [is] how it was created", which is "an attempt by a third county to instrumentalise people for political purposes, which we very firmly reject and described as a form of aggression".

At the same time, Warsaw has, in recent days, also evacuated almost 1,000 Afghans who worked for Poland's military contingent in the country.

But the border standoff is also about resisting pressure from Belarus, and some analyst argue it is used by the nationalist Warsaw government to galvanise its supporters.

Adam Szostkiewicz, a political commentator for the weekly Polityka, was quoted by AFP saying the government was "building its election campaign around this [issue]".

A recent poll by Kantar found that the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) had fallen by three points in the polls and is currently neck-and-neck with the main opposition grouping, Civic Platform, on 26 percent.

But building a campaign around the group of refugees might backfire.

Poland's influential Catholic Church, which is traditionally close to the current government, also appealed to the political leaders to "be guided" by "respect for new arrivals and goodwill".

Belarus has denied it is sending refugees to the border.

Afghans' plight reignites migration fears in Europe

Several EU member states are worried that the Taliban takeover would trigger a replay of the 2015-16 migration crisis when the bloc has seen the arrival of over one million asylum seekers in a matter of months.

EU seeks Afghan safe passage to Pakistan

The EU wants to create safe passage routes out of Afghanistan towards Pakistan and other central Asian states in order to evacuate Afghan women's rights activists and others with similar profiles.

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