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Belarus border crisis: Poland detains 100 migrants

Kieran Burke
November 18, 2021

Polish security forces report multiple attempts by migrants to cross the border and detain over 100. A migration policy expert says Poland is flouting EU law.

Children are seen at a refugee camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in Belarus
A former German government migration adviser has told DW the EU should exercise 'humane control' and let migrants apply for asylumImage: Henadz Zhinkov/Xinhua/imago images

The Polish Defense Ministry reported Thursday that there had been numerous attempts to cross the border from Belarus. It said on Twitter that around 100 migrants had been detained.

As regional leaders consider the next step in the Belarus-Poland border crisis, thousands of migrants remain in the border area.

 Aid groups have said that at least 11 migrants have died since the crisis began in the summer

Belarusian special forces accused of helping crossings

The Polish ministry alleges Belarusian Spetsnaz, or special forces, conducted reconnaissance and had possibly damaged the barbed wire fencing.

"Then the Belarusians forced the migrants to throw stones at Polish soldiers to distract them. The attempt to cross the border took place several hundred metres away," the ministry said.

In video footage Polish soldiers can be seen surrounding a large group of people huddled in the darkness.

DW Correspondent Barbara Wesel  is in the Polish border region and said according to Polish border authorities, in one instance hundreds of migrants had tried to make across. Wesel said it is not known if any made it through. 

"Five-hundred migrants tried to breach the border. So they tried in a really large group to sort of push through with the idea that the police will catch some but maybe not all them so we don’t know how many of them made it through, and that shows that this is not totally over... out in the forests here in this huge border region there are still hundreds of migrants that are trying to make their way into the EU."

Migrants continue to face harsh conditions

Conditions have improved for some migrants who are trying to get into the EU, with some given shelter in a warehouse in Belarus. Hundreds of others however, remain out in the cold and face extremely challenging conditions.

DW's Barbara Wesel was able to accompany aid workers who went to assist a Syrian man who had fallen ill somewhere in the forests.

"It was a really heartrending experience, because we got a tip from local aid workers that somebody had called for help from the forest, and we went out into the forest with them. It took four hours to find the man.  And he was a Syrian man from Homs, totally exhausted, he had fallen ill on the trail, his group had left him behind," Wesel said.

"At least they sent a location pin to this aid group, who then went to find him. They couldn’t help him on his way, he was too ill, he had to go to hospital. And the point now is they’re trying to keep the Polish police from pushing him back across the Belarusian border, because that would be something that this man certainly would not survive."

Poland has passed legislation in parliament allowing groups of migrants to be pushed back into Belarus.

Former German government migration adviser Gerald Knaus told DW that what is happening at the border is in violation of EU law.

"The Polish prime minister is not even arguing that this is in line with EU law. He simply says and explains that EU law should be irrelevant because Poland is facing an invasion. And so these basic principles, these conventions are suspended. Legally it's clear, unfortunately, politically, it's also clear that there is now a consensus in the EU to just accept this violation."

EU must exercise 'humane control'

Knaus said migrants who reach Poland should be allowed to apply for asylum, while ways are found to stop travel to Belaurs. He said the EU should exercise what he calls "humane control."

"Humane control would be to say our laws are clear. Those who reach Poland have a right to apply for asylum in Poland or in the European Union. And if we want to stop people going to Belarus, we need to think about other ways to do that. That is an effort, but it is worth it. If you believe in a fundamental convention of human rights."

The migration adviser also said that the guiding principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention have been sidelined.

"The core of the refugee convention is no longer respected by any of the bigger democracies. So at our borders in the 70th year of the refugee convention, this refugee convention is unfortunately no longer guiding what is happening."

AFP contributed to this report

Edited by: Rob Turner