Fears are growing for a group of Afghan refugees who fled their country last month and headed for Europe, only to find themselves stranded on the Polish-Belarusian border in a “Kafkaesque” political standoff.
The 32 refugees, women, men and a 15-year-old boy, have been trapped in a small patch of muddy land between the two countries for almost three weeks without access to clean water, insufficient shelter and intermittent food supplies, according to an NGO. Polish.
Despite seeking international protection in Poland, they are not allowed to enter, and border guards prevent them from entering. They are also not allowed to return to Belarus, from where they came in the hope of being able to cross into the European Union.
According to the Ocalenie Foundation, which has been monitoring the situation for the past week, one member of the group, a 53-year-old woman, is ill and needs urgent medical attention. Mariana Wartecka, a NGO spokesman said border guards had denied him access to health professionals.
“It is a humanitarian crisis right now,” he said. “They don’t have adequate shelter. They do not have access to drinking water. They are drinking water from a nearby stream that is very dirty ”.
EU countries have accused Belarus’ authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko of seeking to destabilize the bloc by encouraging refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere to enter the country on tourist visas. Then, they say, it will send them to the border with Poland and the Baltic countries in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Brussels in June.
The group of Afghans trapped near the village of Usnarz Górny, some 55 kilometers east of Białystok, is in the crosshairs of this clash, human rights monitors say.
“They are victims of the political game between countries,” said Aleksandra Fertlińska, an activist with Amnesty International Poland. “But the most important thing is that it doesn’t matter what the source of this political game is. They are refugees and are protected by [the] Geneva Convention and what we have to do is … accept them. “
Last week, the European court of human rights ordered Poland and Latvia to help refugees and migrants gathered at their borders by providing them with “food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and, if possible, temporary shelter.” It added that it did not require that any of the countries “allow applicants to enter their territories.”
A group of Iraqi Kurds find themselves in a similar limbo on the border between Latvia and Belarus.
In response to the interim court, Poland’s right-wing government said that its Foreign Ministry had repeatedly offered bring humanitarian assistance for refugees to Belarus. A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry said: “These people are on the Belarusian side of the border.”
Agnieszka Kubal, a migration scholar at UCL, said the offer was bogus at best.
“We are in a situation where the Polish border guards are literally meters away from these people in a narrow cordon and the Polish authorities are sending a truck to Belarus to reach those people on the other side. It is a Kafkaesque situation. It’s so ridiculous that I have no words. “
As the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan prompts hundreds of thousands to flee to neighboring countries, the EU, still reeling from its failure to manage the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, is poised for a new influx of refugees.
Fertlińska urged Warsaw to be prepared to accept refugees fleeing their crisis-affected country and “not close the borders and not build the fences, because we [saw] that in 2015 this type of policy did not imply any change in terms of the number of people trying to reach Europe ”.
But when he visited the border last week, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki took a hard-line note, accusing the Belarusian regime of exploiting refugees and insisting: “Poland must protect its border.”
“I really sympathize with the migrants who have been through an extremely difficult situation, but it must be made clear that they are a political instrument,” Morawiecki said.
Belarus has denied that it is sending refugees to the border. In May, Lukashenko told the EU that if he imposed new sanctions, he would find more “drugs and migrants” than his country would ever have stopped.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism