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UN urges Poland to help migrants stuck at Belarus border

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Warsaw, Poland – The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has urged Poland to help and take in a group of migrants stranded at the border with Belarus for over two weeks.

“We call on the Polish authorities to provide access to territory, immediate medical assistance, legal advice and psychological support to these people”, Christine Goyer, the UNHCR representative in Poland, said on Tuesday, adding that “we acknowledge the challenges posed by recent arrivals to Poland”.

Group of migrants stranded at border with Belarus

“States have the legitimate right to manage their borders in accordance with international law”, she noted, but “they must also respect human rights, including the right to seek asylum”.

Believed to be from Iraq and Afghanistan, a group of around 32 migrants has been unable to cross into Poland and remains stranded at the border with Belarus, near the Polish village of Usnarz Gorny. Reports from the scene highlight the difficult conditions in which they find themselves, lacking of food, water and medical assistance, while two lines of Belarusian and Polish soldiers face each other along the border line.

Local activists and rights groups have urged Polish authorities to help to the migrants still stranded in the no man’s land.

Poland and the EU have accused embattled Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants as a “hybrid warfare” tool, facilitating their arrival within EU member states to exert pressure and sow division within the bloc.

Thousands of them have already crossed Belarus border into Poland and the Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania in recent months. The Polish government said around 2,100 migrants had attempted to enter Poland from Belarus in August, and that approximately 800 of them were placed in state-run detention centres.

Migration flux turns political in Poland

Yesterday, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights also urged the European Court of Human Rights to take temporary measures to provide urgent aid to the migrants, including offering them food, water and shelter.

Accusing Minsk of “blackmail”, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Warsaw was ready to provide humanitarian aid but vowed not to let them in, saying that those who want to apply for refugee status can “do so in Minsk”. The Polish government announced on Monday plans to build a 2.5-meter-high solid fence along most of the 150-km border with its eastern neighbour. Construction is expected to begin next week, on top of the deployment of additional troops along the frontier, Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak confirmed.

While government officials in Warsaw insist they respect all provisions of domestic law and international treaties on refugee status, the Polish Human Rights Ombudsman said the Border Guard had violated the Geneva Convention by failing to accept verbal declarations from some of the migrants wishing to apply for asylum in Poland.

The small crisis has quickly turned political in Warsaw, fueling a debate on the ever-so-divisive topic of migration. “This crisis is very much in favor of the ruling party because it creates the narrative that either one is for strong borders or for opening Poland for refugees,” said Marcin Zaborowski, editor-in-chief of the magazine Res Publica Nowa.

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