2nd Dec 2023

Poland doubles troop numbers on Belarus border

  • Poland started erecting a fence along the Belarus border in July (Photo: Mariusz Błaszczak)
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Poland has doubled the number of troops to 6,000 on its Belarus border, amid an ongoing standoff with stranded migrants - at least seven of whom have died as autumn temperatures plummet.

"Almost 6,000 soldiers from the 16th, 18th and 12th divisions are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border," said Poland's minister of defence Mariusz Błaszczak on Tuesday (19 October), in a tweet.

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  • Poland had 3,000 troops near the Belarus over the weekend, a figure which has now doubled (Photo: Mariusz Błaszczak)

His tweet pictured a Polish soldier holding an automatic rifle, noting that the extra show of force was needed to protect "the country's border and prevent it from being illegally crossed."

The troop buildup comes as the European Commission seeks access to the restricted border area, as part of a wider effort to assess the situation on the ground.

But its delegation of officials under the leadership of EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, have yet to obtain Polish permission.

Instead, a senior EU commission official will be heading to Warsaw on Wednesday to meet with the management board of the EU's border agency Frontex.

The official may also have some meetings with the Poles, noted an EU commission spokesperson without being able to elaborate.

The delay and troop presence also comes as Polish citizens took to the streets over the weekend in protest at the anti-migrant rhetoric coming out of their government, led by the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Thousands marched in Warsaw, some holding signs such as "How Many Bodies Lie in the Forest?" and "Stop Torture at the Border."

Over the past few months, thousands of migrants, mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq, have tried to enter Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Many were shuffled to the borders by the Minsk regime under president Alexander Lukashenko, leading to stand-offs with border guards on opposite sides of the frontiers.

Around 3,500 attempted to cross the Belarus-Polish border unlawfully in August.

All three member states have since declared a state of emergency, clamped down on asylum rights, and have been accused of other violations including pushbacks , which are illegal under EU and international law.

But last week, Poland's parliament last passed legislation allowing for migrants to be pushed back at the border.

It means anyone caught crossing will also be slapped with a six-month to three-year entry ban.

The European Commission says it is unable to comment on the new legislation because it still needs to be signed by president Andrzej Duda before taking force.

However, Christine Goyer, the UN refugee agency representative in Poland, said in a statement that the new law "undermines the fundamental right to seek asylum set out in international and EU law."

Poland began erecting a fence along its roughly 400km border with Belarus in July. It now intends to spend some €353m on a border wall as well.

In a joint letter along with 11 other EU states, it asked the European Commission to help finance it and tweak external border rules to allow for pushbacks.

"I have nothing against member states building fences," said Johansson, in response last week. "But whether it should be a good idea to use EU funding for building fences, I must say that I don't think so," she added.

The EU blames Lukashenko for the current conflict, which it has described as a "hybrid war" by Minsk in response to EU sanctions.

Dozen ministers want EU to finance border walls

Interior ministers from 12 member states are demanding the EU finance border-wall projects to stop migrants entering through Belarus, in a further push towards a fortress Europe.

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 Commission: laws allowing Belarus pushbacks need changes

Poland, Latvia and Lithuania have introduced national laws, under states of emergency, allowing authorities to turn back people into Belarus. The European Commission is set to ask for some of those rules to be amended.

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