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Belarus crisis: Poland uses water cannons on migrants

November 16, 2021

Stone-throwing migrants have been met with water cannons and tear gas by Polish forces at the Belarusian border. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has discussed aid to the migrants with the leader of Belarus.

Polish police spray teargas at a man covering his face in front of a barbed wire fence
Polish police accuse Belarus of stirring up migrants at the border areaImage: Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Security forces in Poland on Tuesday deployed water cannons and used tear gas on migrants who attempted to cross the Polish-Belarusian border.

Poland's Border Guard said migrants had been throwing objects at security personnel. In posts on Twitter, the border protection agency said water cannons had been used "against aggressive foreigners." 

Polish police said an officer was seriously injured in the confrontation, which they say was stirred up by Belarus, stating in a tweet: "Unfortunately, as a result of an attack by people inspired by the Belarusian side, a police officer has been seriously injured."

On Tuesday, the human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic, called for deescalation and access for aid workers and media to the border region.

"We need to step aside and think what is happening at the European border, why are these people left in limbo and what can be done in order to stop this extremely dangerous situation," she said. She added that what Belarus was doing in transporting refugees to the border was "absolutely unacceptable."

Limited access to the area due to Poland's state of emergency has presented a challenge to the media, in terms of independently verifying versions of events.

Russia slams Poland's response on border

Russia has condemned Poland's use of force, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov telling media in Moscow: "The behavior of the Polish side is absolutely unacceptable." According to Russian media, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has discussed the humanitarian situation with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg lent his support to Poland, saying the defense alliance was concerned about Lukashenko's using migrants as a "hybrid tactic" against other countries.

"We stand in solidarity with Poland and other affected allies," Stoltenberg told members of the media. 

The European Union has accused the Lukashenko regime of orchestrating the crisis and has agreed on a new framework for expanded sanctions. 

Merkel and Lukashenko speak about aid situation

Lukashenko has also discussed the matter with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, with her office saying the key concern was getting humanitarian aid to migrants.

Hundreds of people have gathered at the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing.

The situation has become increasingly miserable for people who have been camped in temporary camps on the Belarusian side of the border.

Thousands of people, mainly from Middle Eastern countries, have become trapped in limbo, with limited food, water and medical supplies. Many attempting to enter Poland are rounded up and sent back into Belarus by Polish authorities.

Aid groups say at least 11 people have died as a result of the dire conditions.

Rasa Jukneviciene, a Lithuanian member of the conservative European People's Party in the European parliament, told DW, "This crisis is not a crisis as usual, not a migration crisis. It's just a migrant smuggling crisis and the smuggling is orchestrated by an authoritarian regime."

She added, " Of course, we always have a responsibility for everything and and we are trying to do our best. But these people are on the territory of Belarus."

Iraq to begin repatriating citizens on Thursday

As regional leaders try to thrash out solutions to the border crisis, countries have begun curbing travel options for travelers from Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. Aviation authorities in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have in recent days both announced that travelers coming from these Middle Eastern countries would not be allowed to depart on flights heading to Minsk.

As options for migrants become more limited, at least one country has offered to help return some of its citizens.

Iraq said it would begin repatriating people who wanted to leave on a voluntary basis.

The country's embassy in Moscow said it was preparing to fly out 200 citizens on Thursday.

kb/wd (AFP, AP, Reuters)