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Belarus: Poland warns of long-term illegal migrant crossings

November 20, 2021

Polish authorities have arrested three individuals, including one German citizen, for helping migrants trying to illegally enter the EU. The crossings come after two border camps were cleared.

An empty migrant camp along the Poland-Belarus border
Migrants are still trying to breach the border after the makeshift camps were emptiedImage: Leonid Shcheglov/AP/picture alliance

Polish officials said on Saturday that 195 migrants had attempted to illegally cross the border with Belarus, adding that Warsaw expects the crisis to continue long term.

The number of illegal crossings had, however, been reduced from previous days. Some 250 people attempted to cross on Thursday and 501 had tried to cross on Wednesday.

"The foreigners were aggressive — they threw rocks, firecrackers and used tear gas," Poland's border guards said.

"Eighty-two foreigners were ordered to leave Polish territory. Two Ukrainian citizens and one German citizen were detained for aiding and abetting," they added.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said in a local radio interview that the migrants, who were allegedly aided by Belarusian authorities, had changed their tactics and were trying to cross in smaller groups of people at various points of the border.

"We have to prepare for the fact that this problem will continue for months. I have no doubt that that will be the case," Blaszczak said.

Tensions between Belarus and Poland, along with the EU, have been running high over the crisis for weeks.

The EU and Poland accuse Belarus of artificially creating the crisis by luring people, mostly from the Middle East, with promises of an easy crossing into Europe.

DW speaks to migrants in Belarusian holding facility

Lukashenko denies responsibility for crisis

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko told British broadcaster BBC on Friday that it was "absolutely possible" his forces had helped people cross into the EU, but he denied orchestrating the crisis.

"We're Slavs. We have hearts. Our troops know the migrants are going to Germany... Maybe someone helped them," Lukashenko said. "But I didn't invite them here."

The Belarusian government said it had cleared the migrant camps that had built up on the border, with Polish police and border guards confirming that the area was empty.

The migrants were moved to a shelter, and the Iraqi government has offered to repatriate those who wish to leave, but many have said they plan to stay and still hope to get to the EU.

Belarus is said to be providing food and medical treatment to migrants at the center, but there are still complaints about hygiene standards at the site.

Calls grow for Germany to take migrants in

The chairwoman of the Jusos, the youth group of Germany's Social Democratic Party SPD, has called for Germany and the EU to take in the migrants. 

"We must not continue to see refugees only as objects of Alexander Lukashenko. By doing so, we betray all the foundations on which our society is built," Juso chief Jessica Rosenthal said.

The SPD is expected to form Germany's next government with smaller parties, the climate-friendly Green Party and business-focused Free Democratic Party (FDP). Rosenthal called on the likely new coalition government to respond to the crisis in a humane way.

"Before children die at the border, we must be ready to take in people and provide for them," Rosenthal said.

Poland said that at least 11 migrants have died since the crisis began over the summer.

Dunja Mijatovic, the human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, said on Friday that the humanitarian situation along the border was "alarming" and demanded an end to Poland's returns of migrants to Belarus.

"I have personally listened to the appalling accounts of extreme suffering from desperate people ... who spent weeks or even months in squalid and extreme conditions in the cold and wet woods due to these pushbacks," she said in a statement.

"All pushbacks must end immediately," Mijatovic added.

jcg/sri (AFP, Reuters, dpa)