Poland completes Belarus border wall
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Thursday the completion of Poland's border wall with Belarus.
It's part of Poland's response to migrant crossings into the European Union from Belarus last year, which had turned into a political standoff while at the very least 20 migrants died at the border's freezing forests and bogs.
The wall is 5.5 meters (18 feet) high and 186 kilometers (115 miles) long.
What did Morawiecki say?
While speaking in the border town of Kuznica, Poland's prime minister alleged that Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko decided to test the European Union's eastern border in preparation for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"The first sign of this war was Lukashenko's attack on the Polish border with Belarus," Morawiecki said.
Belarus is a Russian ally and has served as an important staging ground for Moscow's invasion.
What was the standoff?
In late 2021, thousands of people began attempting to cross into the European Union through Belarus. Brussels accused Minsk of systematically bringing migrants to the EU's border as a way to exert pressure on the West and push for the easing of sanctions.
While Poland has accepted millions of people fleeing the war in Ukraine, it has maintained a strict policy against arrivals from Belarus, who mostly originate from northern Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa.
Rights organizations have accused Poland of illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers back toward its eastern neighbor.
Human Rights Watch said Poland "unlawfully and sometimes violently, summarily pushes migrants and asylum-seekers back to Belarus, where they face serious abuses."
On Friday, Polish authorities will lift a state of emergency along the border which blocked access to journalists, rights workers and others to the border region.
Meanwhile, in a sharp contrast to its treatment of refugees from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, Poland has welcomed hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing Russia's war.
"If you give a lift to a refugee at the Ukrainian border you are a hero. If you do it at the Belarus border you are a smuggler and could end up in jail for eight years," said Natalia Gebert, founder and CEO of Dom Otwarty, or Open House, a Polish NGO that helps refugees.
sdi/fb (AP, dpa)