Border area with Belarus: Amnesty accuses Poland of pushbacks

As of: 10/21/2021 7:17 a.m.

A group of migrants is said to have tried to cross the Polish-Belarusian border – and were forcibly pushed back by Polish border guards. Human rights activists accuse Warsaw of disregarding international law.

The human rights organization Amnesty International accuses Poland of forcibly pushing back 17 Afghan refugees on the EU’s external border to Belarus. While attempting to overcome the barbed wire barrier, the group was forcibly captured by Polish security forces, held in a guard room and then deported to Belarus. According to Amnesty, the incident occurred on Wednesday.

According to research by the human rights organization, they were members of a group of 32 Afghans who stranded on the Belarusian-Polish border in August and who, according to an order of the European Court of Human Rights, were to receive temporary protection in Poland.

Polish border guards: 16 people pushed back

The Polish Gernzschutz announced on Wednesday that a group of migrants who had been stuck at the border for many weeks had tried to break through the border barrier. In the vicinity of the village of Usnarz Gorny, six people hoisted tree trunks onto the barbed wire barricade, the authority announced on Twitter and posted a video. The refugees also threw stones at border guards and soldiers, it said. Some were armed with axes and tongs. The border guards used tear gas to stop the migrants. Sixteen of them finally entered Polish territory by force, but were pushed back to the other side of the border.

It is not clear whether this is the same incident that Amnesty is referring to. The information provided by the border guards cannot be independently verified, as Poland has declared a state of emergency in the border region. Journalists and helpers are not allowed in.

Amnesty: “Slap in the Face of International Law”

The head of Amnesty International’s European office, Nils Muiznieks, spoke of a “slap in the face of international law and the human right to asylum”. Pushing back the group of Afghans, a so-called pushback, represents a blatant disregard for the European Court of Human Rights. The migrants have been stuck at the border for two months under “abysmal conditions”, according to Muiznieks.

The Polish government accuses the Belarusian ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, of bringing refugees from crisis regions to the EU’s external border in an organized manner. Lukashenko announced at the end of May that Minsk would no longer prevent migrants from continuing to travel to the EU – in response to tightened Western sanctions against the former Soviet republic.

No uniform EU migration policy

Regardless of the alleged incident, the European Parliament debated pushbacks at EU external borders on Wednesday evening. Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Anze Logar, representing the Council Presidency, said that the member states and the EU institutions take these reports very seriously. “Forced pushbacks must not take place on European soil,” said Logar. Member states affected by allegations investigated in detail and took “all necessary corrective measures”.

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson expressed concern about a planned amendment to Poland’s law on aliens, which would allow border guards to decide whether people would have access to an asylum procedure. The Commission is examining compliance with EU law. “Violence at our borders is never acceptable, especially if it is structural and organized,” said Johansson. “Pushbacks must never be legalized.” The SPD MEP Birgit Sippel said: “Images of violent pushbacks against people are a shame for our European Union.” It is not about individual cases, but is a “systematic attack on the right to asylum, on the Geneva Refugee Convention” in order to then “rewrite European values”.

Council of Europe criticizes a lack of shared responsibility

The Council of Europe also expressed concern and called for an end to the pushbacks of migrants that have been shown to be practiced at several borders in European countries. At the moment, “violations of the human rights of refugees” are increasingly observed, complained the human rights commissioner of the Strasbourg country organization, Dunja Mijatovic. The Council of Europe states would have to defend themselves against attempts to legalize the rejection of asylum seekers at their external borders. Mijatovic recalled the duty to “show solidarity when taking in refugees”. The tendency of the countries of first arrival for migrants in Europe to push back migrants is mainly due to the lack of support from the partner countries.

In addition to Poland, Croatia, Greece and Hungary in particular have long been accused of violently preventing people from entering the EU or deporting them. Pushbacks are illegal within the meaning of the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Accordingly, asylum seekers must be given the opportunity to apply for asylum.

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