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May 23, 2022



Polish Defense Ministry: Belarus has been holding up to 300 migrants on the border and forcing them to attack Polish soldiers

19.11.2021 7:02
Migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border, November 2021. (PHOTO:  Al Jazeera)
Migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border, November 2021. (PHOTO: Al Jazeera)

The Polish Defense Ministry announced yesterday afternoon that Belarus had forced migrants to attack Polish soldiers on the border with Belarus in the early morning hours and that Polish security forces had then arrested a group of about 100 migrants who attempted to illegally cross the border near Dubicze Cerkiewne. Reuters reports that Minsk has denied previous similar accusations by Poland. 

According to a spokesperson for the Polish border guard, five foreign nationals, three of them children, have been transported to hospital. Reuters reports that the hospitalized migrants are all in good condition. 

"Belarusian forces first performed a reconnaisance mission. It is highly likely that they damaged the fence," the Polish Defense Ministry has written in its statement.

"Afterward, the Belarusians forced the migrants to throw rocks at Polish soldiers to distract their attention. Several hundred meters away, an attempt to cross the border was made," the statement says. 

The Polish border guard announced that several big groups of migrants had attempted using force to cross the border, one as many as 500 people large, according to border guards on the Polish side. Anna Michalská, a spokesperson for the Polish border guard, later told the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper that the incident involving that group happened near Dubicze Cerkiewne around 9 PM on 17 November. 

According to her, people threw rocks at the Polish border guards and aimed flashlights and lasers at their eyes. "There were warning shots from a flare gun," she said.

"Belarusian soldiers were in the group. About 200 people crossed the border and covered a distance of several dozen meters into Polish territory," the border guard spokesperson reported. 

"They were pushed back to the border. Others never crossed the border," she reported. 

"Five of the people - a man, woman and three children from the grop - were taken to hospital (on the Polish side)," the spokesperson said, but did not clarify the nature of the migrants' injuries or what had happened to them. She did say the hospitalized migrants' state of health is good. 

According to Michalská, the shots fired from the flare gun were "likely" the work of the Belarusian security forces. During all of Wednesday the Polish border guard claims to have recorded 501 attempts to unofficially cross into Poland from Belarus. 

Reuters reports the numbers are growing compared to previous days. Since the beginning of this year, the Polish border guard has recorded more than 33 000 attempts to cross into Poland from the Belarus side illegally, according to the Onet news server in Poland. 

Of those, 5 500 were attempted this month, almost 17 300 in October, almost 7 700 in September, and more than 3 500 in August. Several thousand migrants, most of them from the Middle East, have been camping out in freezing temperatures on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland hoping to cross into the European Union. 

The West blames the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko for attracting the migrants into his country and then sending them to its border with the EU. Minsk is said to be taking revenge for the sanctions the EU has imposed on the regime because of the regime's human rights violations. 

Belarus rejects those accusations. On Wednesday it was reported that Belarusian security forces had begun to bring groups of migrants away from the border crossing at Bruzhi-Kuźnica. 

The spokesperson for the Polish border guard said it was not clear whether Belarus was just sending the refugees to a different location along the border. According to the BelTA wire service of Belarus, the migrants were taken to a nearby center for logistics and transport. 

That source claims about 1 000 people agreed to be relocated to "wait there to see how the situation develops". The Associated Press reported that some of those migrants told them they do not want to return to their home countries. 

Yesterday, according to the TASS wire service, more than 500 more migrants abandoned yet another camp near the border crossing. Belarusian border guards escorted those people to the center for logistics and transport as well, which is located about 1.5 kilometers from the border, according to TASS. 

About 300 people, most of them men, but also families with young children, are continuing to huddle around campfires near the border crossing and pitching tents, according to a Reuters reporter on the Belarusian side yesterday. Those people are said to be surrounded by Belarusian soldiers. 

Information about what is happening at the border is difficult to verify from independent sources because there is a state of emergency at the border on the Polish side and journalists, human rights defenders or humanitarian workers cannot access the territory. Media are dependent on information from the Polish authorities. 

Inside Belarus, all journalists struggle with strict limitations imposed by officials. Yesterday the first repatriation flight of migrants from Minsk to Iraq was expected to take place. 

As many as 430 Iraqi citizens had already boarded a flight, according to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry yesterday afternoon. One Iraqi who registered for the deportation flight told Reuters that he and his wife had attempted to cross into either Lithuania or Poland a total of eight times.

"If it weren't for my wife, I would never return to Iraq. She doesn't want to return to the border with me because she has experienced too many horrors," said the man, who did not want to give his name but identified himself as Kurdish. 

Reuters reports that Lebanon has instructed all airlines flying from its territory to Belarus to only allow Belarusian citizens on board their aircraft or persons with official Belarusian residency permits or visas, and Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have already taken such steps and banned the transport of the citizens of some Middle Eastern countries to Belarus. The Belarusian company Belavia announced yesterday that it will stop making it possible for citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Yemen to board their aircraft flying from Tashkent in Uzbekistan to Minsk.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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