Warsaw, Poland – Work began this week on the construction of a new wall along Poland’s eastern border aimed at deterring migrants from entering the country from neighbouring Belarus.
Running along about 190 km – nearly half of the border’s total length – and measuring 5.5 meters high, the wall should cost over €350 million and be completed by June.
Equipped with cameras and motion detectors, its construction has raised a series of concerns, including regarding its potential environmental and wildlife impact along the mostly forested border.
“Our intention is for the damage to be as small as possible,” assured Polish border guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska.
Human rights groups have also criticized the move as a violation of the rights of migrants who would most likely be unable to apply for asylum in Poland.
Polish border guards have declined to reveal the exact locations where the wall is being built, saying “the Belarusian services are just waiting for this to send groups of migrants there.”
The Polish government argues building a wall along its eastern border was the only way to avoid a repetition of the crisis that unfolded last year, when thousands of migrants – mostly from Iraq and the Middle East – tried to cross into the EU from Belarus via Poland and the Baltic states.
Belarus-Poland border crossings drop
Officials in Warsaw and other European governments accused Belarus of luring migrants to its western border, even facilitating their transport and using them as part of a “hybrid” attack to destabilize and spark tensions along the EU’s eastern frontiers.
A barbed-wire fence was set up and thousands of Polish troops deployed at the height of the crisis. The government, which said its crackdown on illegal border crossings was necessary not to give in to Minsk’s “blackmail”, also declared a regional state of emergency, restricting access to journalists and NGO’s.
Poland’s crackdown on attempted illegal crossings has faced a severe backlash from local and international rights organisations.
They accused authorities of illegal pushbacks, violating the rights of migrants to properly apply for asylum and of leaving them stranded at the border in harsh conditions and amid freezing temperatures. At least a dozen migrants have died in the area.
Around 800 people have tried to cross the border since the start of the year, according to the Polish border guards.