Human Rights Commissioner urges Poland to protect rights of trapped migrants

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights called on Poland to protect the human rights of Afghan migrants stranded on its border with Belarus. The migrants have been camping in the open for two weeks.

Poland must take immediate action on the fate of around 25 people stranded at the EU’s eastern border, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović said in a statement on Wednesday (August 25th).

Afghan migrants have been stranded at the border for more than two weeks. They are among thousands of people – mostly from the Middle East – who have crossed Belarus to EU states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in recent months.

The Afghans camp in the open and refuse to be sent back to Belarus. They have little weather protection and there are no toilets, reports DW Monika Sieradzka.

“The dire humanitarian situation… is alarming,” Mijatović said in the statement. While condemning Belarus’ actions, which she said left migrants in a vulnerable position, she urged Poland to meet its humanitarian obligations. The commissioner has already sent a similar letter to Lithuania, she said.

“Pushing back people, denying them access to fair asylum procedures, or simply leaving them stuck in a humanitarian emergency cannot be the response of a Council of Europe member state bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. human rights, the Refugee Convention and other international human rights instruments, ”Mijatović said.

Land conflict

The stalemate centers on a geographically disputed area: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck insisted on Tuesday that the migrants “are on the Belarusian side of the border. Belarus is responsible for these groups. If anyone on the side Belarusian wants to apply for refugee status, please do so in Minsk. “

At least some members of the group are said to have applied for international protection in Poland, but the border police ignored or rejected their request. This week, the Polish human rights ombudsperson said border authorities violated the Geneva Convention by not accepting verbal declarations from some of the migrants that they wanted to seek international protection in Poland.

A lawyer who visited migrants at the border on August 20, Tadeusz Kolodziej, confirmed DW that he and his colleagues had also submitted the written requests to the Bialystok police, and that these were rejected. He said this indicated that the Polish authorities were carrying out “illegal push-backs”.

There have been several reports, also supported by Kolodziej, that the migrants managed to enter Polish territory but were brought back to the border by border guards.

Read also: Afghans stranded in Poland refuse to return to Belarus

Protesters chained themselves to the fence surrounding the Polish border guard headquarters and placed barbed wire over the fence to protest the government’s refusal to let a group of migrants in, in Warsaw, Poland on Monday August 23, 2021 | Photo: AP Photo / Czarek Sokolowski

Polish lock

Poland’s refusal to allow Afghans on its soil is partly aimed at Alexander Loukachenko: Morawieck says that this decision would yield to “blackmail” by the Belarusian president. During a visit to the border on Tuesday, he said attempts by migrants to enter Poland were part of a plot by the Minsk regime to sow political instability in the EU.

The government in Warsaw is also concerned that the reception of migrants will lead to attempts by larger groups to enter its territory. “If we accept this group, the next moment we will not have 10 or 20 (…) but 1,000, 2,000 and 10,000 ” people trying to enter, said the deputy minister of Foreign Affairs Marcin Przydacz.

On Monday, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak announced that a new sturdy 2.5-meter-high fence would be built along the eastern border, aimed at preventing irregular migrants from entering. The government in Warsaw is also strengthening immigration law to facilitate the deportation of foreigners. A proposed amendment would allow applications for international protection not to be recognized, DW reports.

This is nothing new, according to the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. On Tuesday, the Polish daily reported that “Unfortunately, for many years Poland has had a problem” not hearing “requests for help from refugees when they arrive at our border.”

But the Polish Foreign Ministry rejects this request, claiming that it fully applies the provisions of national and international asylum law. “Poland fully respects the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and complies with its provisions in the current situation,” said a statement from the ministry.

August 19, 2021, Usnarz Gorny, Poland: Growing number of people trying to enter Poland makes migration a domestic policy issue |  Photo: Attila Husejnow / SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire
August 19, 2021, Usnarz Gorny, Poland: Growing number of people trying to enter Poland makes migration a domestic policy issue | Photo: Attila Husejnow / SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire

The situation of migrants is worsening

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, this week called on Polish authorities to welcome migrants and provide them with medical care, legal assistance and psychological and social support.

On Tuesday, the Polish government said it had sent tents, blankets, generators and other items to help the group. But aid workers and refugee activists fear the situation for migrants will turn critical. The Polish Ocalenie Foundation (Rescue) managed to send the group food, water and hygiene products “on a few occasions”, DWSieradzka reports.

The migrants tried to communicate to aid workers that some of them were sick, but a doctor, Paulina Bownik, said DW that the Polish border guards had even prevented her from approaching the refugees. “Why don’t they let me go to these people in need? Some of them are obviously sick. As a doctor, I’m here to help people. I’m not going to kidnap anyone,” Bownik said.

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said this week that it had asked the European Court of Human Rights to initiate temporary measures to force Poland to ensure the safety of migrants and their provide food, water and shelter in a refugee center.

With agencies, DW

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