Usnarz Górny (Pologne) (AFP)
The fate of 32 Afghan migrants stranded at the Belarus-Poland border for nearly two weeks is quickly becoming a major headache for the Polish authorities, desperate not to show weakness in a standoff with their authoritarian neighbor.
The EU and Poland accuse the Belarusian regime of pushing thousands of migrants – mostly from the Middle East – to make illegal crossings to the bloc in retaliation against EU sanctions.
But many Poles were moved by the sight of the migrants trapped between armed Belarusian officers and Polish soldiers.
Some demand that they be allowed to enter EU territory and seek asylum, but others agree with the government’s hard line against Belarusian “blackmail”.
“Poland must protect its border,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said earlier this week, accusing Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko of exploiting migrants.
“I really sympathize with the migrants who have found themselves in an extremely difficult situation, but it should be made clear that they are a political instrument,” Morawiecki said.
At the same time, Morawiecki stressed that the Polish government was helping dozens of Afghans evacuated from Kabul to Warsaw in recent days following required checks.
The clash near the village of Usnarz Gorny is one of many similar incidents along Belarus’s borders with EU members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
The three countries are preventing migrants from crossing to make asylum claims, saying they should go through embassies in Belarus or official border checkpoints.
– ‘Give them shelter’ –
The migrants, who Poland says are only inches from Belarusian territory in an area where the border is not clearly demarcated, survived on food and water provided by militants and some guards – Polish borders.
Several commentators urged the government to let them in.
“The only thing we can do is show how different we are from… Minsk, give them shelter and a chance to seek asylum,” Boguslaw Chrabota wrote in the Rzeczpospolita daily.
Michal Wilgocki, a commentator for Gazeta Wyborcza, warned that Poland’s right-wing populist government could use anti-migrant rhetoric to gain support, as it did in its first election in 2015.
He urged the political forces to “take the side of human life”.
Rather, far-right figures supported the government’s hard line and went to the camp to support the border guards.
Deputy Defense Minister Marcin Ociepa said on Friday that the camp was intended “to make us debate in Poland on issues as fundamental as security or foreign policy, migration policy”.
“The Polish opposition should not be part of this scenario of the Russian and Belarusian secret services,” he said.
Poland’s Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that so far in August 2,100 people had attempted to cross illegally from Belarus, 1,342 of whom were prevented from doing so.
In another part of the border, authorities announced on Friday that they had rescued 12 migrants who found themselves stranded in a swamp after crossing the border.
The group consisted of three children. Two people required medical attention and one had to be moved on a stretcher.
Border guards said there were 11 Iraqis and 1 Egyptian.
The Polish Army has also been enlisted to help border guard patrols, with around 900 troops deployed, and razor wire is being laid along several sections of the border.
© 2021 AFP