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23rd Oct 2021

Activists: 'More deaths' expected on Polish-Belarus border

  • EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson in Lithuania. She wants to visit Poland - but has as yet been unable to fix a date (Photo: European Union)
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More people stuck in the forest along the Belarus and Poland border are likely to die to exposure, activists have warned.

"We know there will be more deaths," Marta Górczyńska, a Polish human rights lawyer and researcher, told EUobserver on Thursday (23 September). She worked with the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and is at the border to collect information of migrants pushed back by Polish border police into Belarus.

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Górczyńska said some have been lost in the forest for up three weeks, without any food or water or medical assistance.

National authorities have so far confirmed at least four deaths, among the possibly several thousand migrants and asylum seekers stranded along the border.

"Both forces [Poland and Belarus border police] refuse to allow them to enter," she said. "The situation right now is absolutely critical," she said, noting a demand for the Polish government to send in doctors has not been responded to.

Poland has imposed a state of emergency in the area, denying access to journalists, NGO and humanitarian assistance.

Both the EU and Poland have described it as a hybrid war, instigated by the Belarus government under president Alexander Lukashenko in retaliation for sanctions against his regime.

The EU maintains that line, but also appears to be meeting resistance in Warsaw over a proposal to send officers from the EU's border agency Frontex.

Any such deployment must first be demanded by Warsaw, which it reportedly has not.

On Friday, the commission's chief spokesperson Eric Mamer told reporters that Poland needs to ensure that its border management is carried "in a such a way that they can care for the people who are there."

A similar statement was issued by another EU commission spokesperson.

"We urge member state authorities to ensure that people at the border are given the necessary care and assistance," he said.

Planned EU Commission visit hits snag

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson is also set to visit the area for an "on-the-ground strategic assessment" over the next few days.

But contacts between Brussels and Warsaw for an eventual visit have yet to secure any dates.

And a phone call scheduled on Friday to discuss EU support between Johansson and Poland's interior minister Mariusz Kaminski appears to have also been delayed.

"It is a little bit more complicated than anticipated to schedule this call," said the commission spokesperson.

But Kaminski in a tweet said no attempt had been made to contact Johansson, although he remained open for talks.

He had also earlier this week showcased 13 new border patrol surveillance vehicles, on top of the 500 additional Polish troops that will be sent to the border.

Polish-Belarus asylum-seeker border standoff continues

An EU Commission spokesperson called the situation's origins as "an attempt by a third county to instrumentalise people for political purposes, which we very firmly reject and described as a form of aggression".

EU states want more Belarus sanctions

EU heads of state and government on Friday, at a summit in Brussels, demanded more sanctions against Belarus "as a matter of urgency" and want the European Commission to tweak rules governing borders to tackle "state-sponsored smuggling".

Analysis

Commissions's new migration pact still seeking 'landing zone'

Last October, the European Commission gave an optimistic outlook on the adoption of its migration and asylum pact. EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas said its pact on migration was lowering the landing gear - suggesting agreement was possible.

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