Press Play to listen to this article
WARSAW – Concerns about the way the Polish government is handling the Belarus-sparked migration problem are growing.
EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson was in Warsaw on Thursday to talk to Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński about the situation on the border with Belarus.
“We agreed that the actions of Belarus must meet with a determined reaction from the EU Member States,” said Kamiński tweeted Thursday evening shortly after the meeting.
At least five people have died in the border zone where a state of emergency was declared, which closed a three-kilometer-wide border strip to outsiders, including the media. Poland is also refusing to ask the Warsaw-based EU border agency Frontex for help, despite growing pressure from Brussels.
Amnesty International accused the Polish government on Thursday of illegally sending people back to Belarus. The human rights organization used satellite tracking to track 32 people who were on the Polish side of the border on August 18, but were back in Belarus a day later.
“Amnesty International believes that this movement could be evidence of an illegal pushback, as the movement appears to have taken place when armed Polish border guards surrounded the makeshift camp of refugees,” the NGO said.
There was no immediate response from the Polish government.
The government has tried to increase support for its position by trying to portray the hundreds of migrants trying to get to Poland as potential terrorists and sexual deviants; At an amazing press conference on Monday, the country’s interior and defense ministers showed a video they claim was found on a phone chip in the area showing a man having sex with a horse. The material was broadcast in the state media.
“Photos of people from the Middle East in uniform, a man who wanted to associate with an animal, photos of naked children only lightly covered with a black stripe, should cast a shadow on anyone who storms our eastern border,” the Conservative newspaper Rzeczpospolita wrote in an editorial adding: “[The pictures] should sow fear, hatred and appeal to racist stereotypes. You send the military against monsters, not against humanitarian missions. “
The opposition also accuses the government of bad faith.
“We witnessed a scandal and emotional blackmail against Poland, which after 24 hours turned out to be a mere lie and manipulation,” said former Interior Minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz on TVN24.
The government remains committed to its decision to declare a state of emergency along the border to prevent migrants from entering Poland.
“We are not talking about refugees, but about mass migration. People crossing the border are not in danger in Belarus. They were introduced by the Lukashenko regime and are used as weapons for political reasons, ”Kamiński said during the press conference on Monday.
He then called after a meeting with Johansson that Poland “grants international protection to people whose lives and health are at risk, as shown by the aid to the Belarusians persecuted by the Lukashenko regime and the evacuation of around 1,300 refugees from Afghanistan”.
Warsaw and Brussels agree that the people who try to enter Poland, Lithuania and Latvia from Belarus will be used as a weapon against the EU by the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus has increased the number of flights from the Middle East and is in talks with Venezuela about opening a direct route to Minsk.
Since August, the number of migrants trying to get from Belarus to Poland has been growing. On Wednesday alone, more than 300 attempts to cross the border with Belarus were registered, said the Polish border guard. So far this month, the number is approaching 6,000 – compared to about 100 last year as a whole.
Despite the crackdown on the border, people are still getting through. Hundreds made it to Germany, where they are housed in a camp near the German-Polish border.
Instead of turning to the EU Frontex, the Polish government is relying on border guards, police and military as well as a new barbed wire fence along the border.
“I think it might be a good idea to invite Frontex to be there at the Polish-Belarusian border, to show visibly that this is a European border guard and also because we have Frontex expertise … you can too help with clarification. “About how this smuggling mechanism works … that of course has to be decided by the Polish government,” Johansson told POLITICO earlier this week.
Kamiński tweeted after a meeting with Johansson that “Poland has been working actively with Frontex since the beginning of the crisis and is in constant contact with its leadership.”
He had also previously said that Poland is sending text messages to prevent people from attempting the crossing.
“The Polish border is sealed. The BLR authorities told you lies. Go back to Minsk! Do not take pills from Belarusian soldiers, ”said the text message, which officials said was sent to migrants near the border who were within range of the broadcasting stations.
But there is also growing concern that the Polish authorities are forcibly deporting people to Belarus and not allowing them to apply for asylum.
“We are aware of Alexander Lukashenko’s cynical game, but we refuse to accept that Poland – a member of the European Union for 17 years – uses equally inhuman tactics,” wrote Fundacja Ocalenie, an NGO that works for refugees and migrants in a letter to Johansson.
The EU commissioner called after her visit to Poland on Thursday: “The aggression of the Lukashenko regime deserves a resolute and unanimous response from the EU. As a strong EU member state, Poland can show that the ability to protect the border can be reconciled with the ability to respect the fundamental rights and obligations of the EU. ”
she added that a delegation from their Ministry of Interior and Migration would visit Poland next week on Wednesday to continue talks.