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30th Jun 2022

Poland to build anti-refugee wall on Belarus border

  • Poland's wall to be modelled on Hungary's anti-migrant barrier (Photo: Freedom House)
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Poland has become the latest European country to start building an anti-refugee wall, with a new fence on its border with Belarus.

The 2.5-metre high wall would be modelled on one built by Hungary on its border with Serbia in 2015, Polish defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak said.

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"We are dealing with an attack on Poland. It is an attempt to trigger a migration crisis," he told press at a briefing near the Belarus frontier on Monday (23 August).

"It is [also] necessary to increase the number of soldiers [on the border] ... We will soon double the number of soldiers to 2,000," he added.

"We will not allow the creation of a route for the transfer of migrants via Poland to the European Union," he said.

The minister shared photos of a 100-km razor-wire barrier, which Poland already erected in recent weeks.

Some 2,100 people from the Middle East and Africa tried to enter Poland via Belarus in the past few months in what Blaszczak called "a dirty game of [Belarus president Alexander] Lukashenko and the Kremlin" to hit back at EU sanctions.

"These are not refugees, they are economic migrants brought in by the Belarusian government," deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz also said on Monday.

Some people were pushed over the border by armed Belarusian police who fired in the air behind them, according to Polish NGO Minority Rights Group.

Others were pushed back by Polish soldiers, who should have let them file asylum claims, while another 30-or-so people have been stuck in no man's land without food or shelter.

"People were asking the [Polish] border guards for protection and the border guards were pushing them back," Piotr Bystrianin from the Ocalenie Foundation, another Polish NGO, told the Reuters news agency.

"That means they were in contact and that means they should give them the possibility to apply for protection ... It's very simple," he said.

"We have been very concerned by ... people being stranded for days," Shabia Mantoo, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, also said.

But for its part, the Polish government had little time for moral niceties.

"The statements and behaviour of a significant number of Polish politicians, journalists, and NGO activists show that a scenario in which a foreign country carrying out such an attack against Poland will receive support from allies in our country is very real," Polish deputy foreign minister Paweł Jabłoński said.

Belarus has also been pushing refugees into Lithuania and Latvia, with more than 4,000 people recently crossing into Lithuania.

"Using immigrants to destabilise neighbouring countries constitutes a clear breach of international law and qualifies as a hybrid attack against ... Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and thus against the entire European Union," the Baltic states and Poland said in a joint statement on Monday.

Lithuania is building a 3-metre high, 508-km wall on its Belarus border in a €152m project for which it wants EU money.

The wall would be completed by September 2022, Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Simonyte said on Monday.

"The physical barrier is vital for us to repel this hybrid attack," she said.

Fortress Europe

The latest upsurge in wall-building began with Greece, which said last week it had completed a 40-km fence on its border with Turkey to keep out potential Afghan refugees.

And Turkey has started building a 3-metre high concrete barrier on its 241-km border with Iran for the same reason.

"The Afghan crisis is creating new facts in the geopolitical sphere and at the same time it is creating possibilities for migrant flows," Greece's citizens' protection minister Michalis Chrisochoidis said.

Turkey would not become Europe's "refugee warehouse", Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said.

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".

Poland doubles troop numbers on Belarus border

Poland 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 temperatures start to plummet.

Column

One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

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