By Hannah Lettl
An estimate of 3,000 refugees is currently trapped within the Polish-Belarusian border. The Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko is encouraging refugees, mostly from Middle east countries, to enter the European Union from Belarus.
This situation is being used as a geopolitical instrument to blackmail the EU into lifting its sanctions on the country. Belarus has sent refugees from the capital Minsk to the borders of Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland to pressure the EU into ending his international isolation.
But the response of the three countries is very far from the European values that we believe in – they have erected border fences. In addition, the lack of food and medical assistance and the approaching of winter with freezing temperatures is causing a humanitarian emergency that has been going on for months now.
At least 10 people have died in the border region already, but it remains difficult to verify and access information as the Polish president Andrzej Duda announced a state of emergency at the border, making it illegal for journalists and human rights defenders to enter the area.
The NATO and the Polish president have condemned Lukashenko’s instrumentalization of humans as hybrid warfare and the EU has announced further sanctions, especially on the airlines involved in transporting refugees from the Middle East to Minsk. Most recently, the Belarusian blog ‘NEXTA’ posted a video of people marching on the highway to the Polish border crossing Kuznica that was closed shortly after.
The Polish authorities have reported 30,000 border crossings this year compared to 120 last year and, according to the Polish government, around 12,000 troops have been deployed in the region. In this critical situation, with no humanitarian assistance provided by the Polish government to people in need of help, locals have started to do their part and replaced and authorities and NGOs in trying to prevent what could likely be a humanitarian disaster.
Fences are being built and pushbacks have become accepted. Europe Must Act is concerned by the tendency of Member States of the European to prevent people seeking safety from requesting international protection, a fundamental right recognized by the Geneva Convention. While in Greece refugees are pushed back towards Turkey, last month Poland approved a worrying law which de facto legalizes pushbacks.
Instead of giving in to the blackmail attempts of the Belarusian leader, the EU must adhere to its values and responsibilities prescribed in the Geneva Convention and ensure that its Member States protect fundamental rights stated in European and international law.
Photo credits: Franziska Grillmeier