Four people stranded on the Polish-Belarusian border have died in recent days, authorities said, amid continuing accusations that Minsk is abandoning migrants at its border in an attempt to pressure the EU.
Polish authorities confirmed that three people, including an Iraqi, were found dead from hypothermia and exhaustion on the Polish side of the border on Saturday, while the body of a woman was seen lying on the Belarusian side on Sunday.
Eight more seriously weakened migrants have also been found stranded in swampy terrain along other parts of the border, said Polish border guards, seven of whom have been admitted to hospital where they are being treated for exhaustion.
The Polish human rights NGO Ocalenie, which is in telephone contact with some 30 Afghan men and women, including a 15-year-old boy, on the Usnarz Górny border, said the group it had now been stagnant for more than 40 days in “dramatic” conditions.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration earlier this month called the situation of migrants “extremely harsh … with limited access to clean water and food, medical assistance, sanitary facilities and shelter.”
EU member Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have faced increasing pressure on their borders with Belarus which they have described as a “hybrid attack” against the bloc in retaliation for the sanctions imposed on the regime of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Poland and Lithuania have declared a state of emergency and are building barbed wire fences on parts of their borders with Belarus, while Warsaw said earlier this week it was sending an additional 500 soldiers to the border.
“We are dealing with a well-organized action led from Minsk and Moscow,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, adding 7,000 migrants and asylum seekers who have been seen at the border since early August.
Morawiecki said Poland “will defend its border with full determination.” Migrants paid up to $ 2,500 in Belarus for “the illusion” of a move to Germany, but then Belarusian soldiers abandoned them in forests or swamps at the border.
Morawiecki said “no one believed” that Lukashenko was acting alone, arguing that the Belarusian leader and “his Russian allies” were working with “great determination” to transport “tens of thousands” from the Middle East and Africa.
A Polish national security spokesman, Stanisław Żaryn, said that Warsaw was dealing with “an attempt to use an artificial migration route to destabilize first the Belarusian-Lithuanian, Belarusian-Latvian and now mainly Belarusian-Polish border.”
“Our findings show that Lukashenko has brought at least 10,000 immigrants to Belarus … and is now looking for new directions from which they can be transported to the EU,” he said, predicting that the crisis could continue for months. Lukashenko himself threatened to flood the EU with “immigrants and drugs” in May.
The extensive sanctions imposed on Belarus by the EU, the US and the UK came in response to the forced landing of a Ryanair flight by the Lukashenko government and the arrest of an opposition journalist, as well as to a brutal crackdown on opponents after last year’s disputed elections, widely viewed as equipped.
Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said this week that Minsk was using migrants and asylum seekers in “revenge against Lithuania, Latvia and Poland for supporting independent democratic forces in Belarus,” and called the behavior of the Lukashenko’s regime of “irresponsible and inhumane”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism