Tensions are escalating along the Polish-Belarus border after Polish authorities again accused the neighboring country of helping to move migrants towards the border, and warned that thousands of additional military personnel were mobilized to respond to the clashes.
In the last week-long border migration crisis, the head of the Polish border guard said groups of people were trying to breach the border late on Monday (8).
“The situation at the border is difficult. More numerous groups of migrants are brought to the border. Attempts are being made to force the border crossing,” said Ewelina Szczepańska, adding that she was confident that Polish forces could deal with the situation.
Poland’s Defense Ministry said Monday on Twitter that “a group of immigrants was located near Kuznica.” The post was accompanied by aerial footage showing large crowds gathering on the Belarus side of the border.
The Ministry later added that: “Currently, immigrants have set up camp in the Kuznica region. They are constantly watched by Belarusian services.”
Polish Border Guard headquarters spokesman Michał Tokarczyk told CNN: “Belarusian services are transferring large groups of migrants to the Polish border. We are awaiting your change and we are prepared for any scenario.”
In an accompanying statement, Tokarczyk specified that there are currently around 4,500 border guards and around 9,500 Polish Army soldiers stationed at the border, while “a group of several thousand immigrants is heading towards the Polish border.”
Belarus’ State Border Committee, which is responsible for the country’s external borders, said migrants near the border want to enter Poland as refugees and pose no threat to security.
A growing number of people have illegally crossed the Polish-Belarus border in recent weeks. According to Tokarczyk, since August more than 30,000 immigrants have tried to enter the country.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has already been accused of fabricating a border migrant crisis by the prime ministers of neighboring Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, prompting Poland to adopt a bill in October to build a wall across the border. along its border with Belarus.
European officials also accused Belarus of encouraging people to illegally cross into Poland and its other European Union neighbors as part of efforts to pressure the bloc over the comprehensive sanctions it imposed on Minsk in June.
The EU, US and British sanctions were a coordinated response to the Lukashenko government’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight and the arrest of an opposition journalist on board – as well as to “continuous crackdowns ” in the former Soviet state.
In another tweet, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said thousands of soldiers were “prepared to defend the Polish border”.
“More than 12,000 people are on duty at the border. We have increased alertness,” wrote Blaszczak.
Meanwhile, the Polish Territorial Defense Forces also said in a tweet that they were raising the alert level to support the border guard, adding: “Soldiers! Check your communication equipment and equipment, let your employers and families know.”
The Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration previously said on Twitter that migrants from the Belarus side were detained on Monday and that the situation in Kuznica is under control.
He posted a video showing Polish police and other armed personnel near a barbed wire fence, with immigrants on the Belarus side. Meanwhile, an urgent government crisis meeting has been called amid rising tensions, according to the Interior Ministry.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Facebook: “The border of the Republic of Poland is not just a line on a map. It’s sacred – the blood of Poles has been shed for generations to protect it!”
Lithuania, which borders Poland and Belarus, said it is redeploying troops as tensions continue to escalate, according to the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service and reported by LRT, the Lithuanian public broadcaster.
“We are preparing for all possible scenarios,” the public broadcaster said, citing Rustamas Liubajevas, head of the Lithuanian border guard.
The exiled opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, called for a strong response from the EU and the United Nations.
“Belarus’ regime exacerbates the border crisis, immigrants are pushed to the EU border by armed men,” she tweeted. “Smuggling of migrants, violence and ill-treatment must stop”.
President Lukashenko’s government has repeatedly denied the fabrication of an immigrant crisis, blaming the West for the crossing and the treatment of migrants. THE CNN contacted the Belarus government for comment.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended the way Minsk is handling the migrant issue, saying Belarus is taking all necessary steps to act legally.
Belarus’ State Border Committee also said in a statement on Facebook: “Foreigners who are close to the Polish border declare their intention to enter the territory of a neighboring country and exercise their right to apply for refugee status in the EU. All of these people, including women and children, do not pose a security threat and do not behave aggressively.”
The Committee added that it did not rule out provocations from the Polish side. “Taking into account the statements of Polish officials about the concentration of armed forces and equipment near the border, we do not exclude provocative actions on the Polish side aimed at justifying the use of physical force and special means against refugees.”
In a later statement, the Committee added: “The situation at the border remains extremely tense. More than 2,000 refugees, including a significant number of women and children, are at Polish barriers along the border (…) Refugees repeatedly try to inform the Polish side that they had left their countries because their lives were in danger.”
He then accused Polish security forces of hurling tear gas at people and using “aviation to exert psychological pressure,” which led some of them to attack Polish barriers.
Charities say migrants face extreme conditions when trying to cross the Belarus border in a freezing climate, lacking food and medical care.
Polish authorities said seven migrants were found dead on the Polish side of the border, with reports of more deaths in Belarus.
Humanitarian groups also accuse Poland’s ruling nationalists of violating the international right to asylum by pushing migrants back to Belarus rather than accepting their requests for protection. Poland says its actions are legal.
Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Allegra Goodwin e Eliza Mackintosh, da CNN, contributed to this report.
*With information from Reuters
(This text is a translation. To read the original, in English, click here)
Reference: CNN Brasil