‘Human rights don't exist': Activists fearful as tensions rise on Poland-Belarus border

‘There are a lot of pushbacks … We see that the army and border guards are more brutal now … Human rights still don't exist at the border,' says Mazurek

16:48 - 14/06/2024 Friday
File photo
File photo

Tensions are once again rising on the Poland-Belarus border due to a growing influx of migrants and more aggressive pushbacks by Polish border forces.

Belarusian authorities are sending an increasing number of migrants over the border, a Polish human rights activist told Anadolu, while the Polish side is using more forceful tactics to curb the arrivals.

The specter of potentially lethal clashes is also looming large, particularly after the late May stabbing of a Polish soldier by a Moroccan migrant, with three Polish soldiers recently arrested for firing live ammunition at a group of migrants.

Poland alleges that Belarus has been trying to destabilize the EU member state by pushing migrants, mostly people from Middle East and Africa, over the border since mid-2021, charges that Minsk denies.

Following a lull in 2023 with the construction of a border fence and increased security on the Polish side, migrant numbers are seeing a sharp rise again, particularly this May and June.

According to figures from the Polish Border Guard, there have been more than 80,000 recorded attempts to cross the border since June 2021, while more than 42,000 people have been detained.

This year, by the end of May, more than 14,000 attempted border crossings had been recorded, while the figure for the whole of last year was 26,000.

The recent incidents of stabbing and arrest of Polish soldiers at the border sparked widespread anger in the country, and the government has responded with more hardline rhetoric against migrants and measures such as relaxing the rules for firearms use by military personnel at the border.

Many had hoped that Poland's tough stance against migration would be tempered when the center-right Civic Coalition government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk took over last December from the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party.

However, according to activists like Karolina Mazurek, that has not been the case.

“The situation on the border is the same as before last year's elections. Nothing has changed. In fact, it may even have become worse,” she told Anadolu.

At a recent press conference in Bialystok, a city in northeastern Poland, Tusk doubled down on the need to keep out migrants.

“The idea is to make it more difficult to smuggle illegal migrants across the border with Belarus and to build better conditions for border guards, the military and the police,” he said.

His words were ominous for Mazurek and other volunteers working in the border area.

“Now we are more afraid of what they will do with us activists. When we heard what the prime minister said, it made us more afraid,” she said.

Interior Minister Tomasz Siemoniak has also approved the establishment of a no-go zone that came into force this Thursday and will be in place for at least 90 days.

It covers a 44-kilometer (27-mile) stretch and extends 200 meters from the border, and along a 16-kilometer (10-mile) part of the border stretching 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) into Poland.

Mazurek believes the tough stance would add to the humanitarian crisis at the border.

“There are a lot of pushbacks. It doesn't matter if this person is underage or pregnant. We see that the army and border guards are more brutal now,” she said.

“We have reports about beatings and about shootings with plastic bullets. A lot of us believed that after the election something would change, but human rights still don't exist at the border.”​​​​​​​

#Donald Tusk
#migrant pushbacks
1 month ago