Warsaw, Poland – Polish authorities arrested thirteen activists on Sunday for trying to take down and damaging part of the barbed-wire fence being put up at the border with Belarus.
Activists detained at Poland-Belarus border
The activists, twelve Poles and one Dutch citizen according to local media reports, said their act was to protest against the “inhuman treatment” of Poland towards migrants stuck at the country’s border with its eastern neighbour.
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski described the incident as “absolutely unacceptable”, warning they will “bear all the legal consequences of their actions”.
“Poland was one of the countries participating in military operations alongside the US, under the aegis of NATO,” the activists wrote in a statement. “For the situation of Afghans – left to the mercy of Islamic fundamentalists – we are today also partly responsible. However, we have a special responsibility towards refugees arriving in our country.”
Poland, along with some Baltic states, have seen a surge of migrants mostly from the Middle East and Afghanistan trying to cross their border from Belarus, and accused the regime of Alexander Lukashenko of using them in a “hybrid war” to destabilize and sow division in EU member states.
With the divisive topic quicky turning political in Warsaw and other EU capitals, the Polish government started the construction of a barbed-wire fence and sent additional troops along its border with Belarus, vowing not to let the groups of migrants in.
Government officials in Warsaw argue that letting in even just a small group would simply amount to giving in to Minsk’s “blackmail” and lead to waves of thousands of migrants at its border in the coming weeks and months.
But activists and human rights groups have criticized Poland’s response, including towards a group of some 32 migrants – believed to be from Afghanistan – stranded for almost three weeks now at the border near the Polish village of Usnarz Gorny, and unable to enter Poland to apply for asylum or international protection.
Reports from the ground highlight the “humanitarian crisis” and “Kafkaesque standoff” unfolding at the site. “They don’t have proper shelter. They don’t have access to clean water. They are drinking water from a stream near them that is really dirty,” said Mariana Wartecka, spokeswoman for the Ocalenie Foundation.
Last week, the European Court of Human Rights issued interim measures ordering Poland and Latvia to provide urgent humanitarian aid to the migrants, including food, water, medical care and temporary shelter if possible.
“They’re a victim of the political game between countries,” lamented Aleksandra Fertlinska from Amnesty International Poland. “But what is most important is that it doesn’t matter what is the source of the political game. They are refugees, and they are protected by the Geneva convention.”