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No Man’s Land: Afghan Migrants Stuck Between Poland and Belarus

Poland and Belarus toy with Afghan asylum seekers they are cruelly keeping stuck between European borders.

Credit: Instagram/@zxlifeofmyownxz

32 Aghan asylum seekers are currently stuck between the borders of Poland and Belarus in a hostile political stand-off as neither nation wants to concede. They have been stuck squished between aggressive armed forces on either side for weeks. 

Poland is nearing a desperate call for state of emergency against the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as Polish President Andrzej Duda claims he is using the vulnerable asylum seekers as  political bait to destabilize the country. Poland has not called for a state of emergency since the fall of communism, but the fear of Belarus’ President Lukashenko has increased the hostility of the two countries border standoff. 

With a state of emergency formally called, the true victims will be the Afghan asylum seekers who are being used as pawns in President Duda and President Lukashenko’s feud. The reason tensions are so high between Poland and Belarus is due to Lukashenko’s reputation as “Europe’s Last Dictator”. His controversial win last year, over claims from Western European governments the election was rigged, led to many Belarussians fleeing the country. Many EU countries provided support, and Poland opened its borders to those escaping Lukashenko’s government.

However, with the rise of Afghan asylum seekers, the Polish government has requested the President allow a restriction of movement for 30-days in a state of emergency in the areas of Podlaskie  and Lubelskie (near the Belarus border). This means aid workers and journalists will not be allowed to enter the area to support the Afghan asylum seekers, further endangering their chances of survival.

There are currently 32 Afghan men and women, and one child, trapped between the borders near the village of Usnarz Górny. The village is about 55km east of the northeastern city of Białystok, and they have been residing there for approximately three weeks. NGOs and journalists present near the site have reported that there are armed guards restricting their access both into Poland, or re-entering Belarus. They have been surviving living in tents, but with heavy rainfall recently their conditions continue to worsen. With the wood wet as well, they cannot keep warm. The access to clean water is scarce, as is food. A 52 year old woman recently had to be hospitalized in need of urgent medical assistance as she fell ill exposed to the harsh exposed conditions.

Antoni Mantorski, a Polish photojournalist on the scene, describes the severity of their conditions: 

They’re surrounded by Polish and Belarusian border guards and they can’t go anywhere. It’s a crazy situation…They are all sick. They sleep in tents and in recent days there was heavy rain, so they can’t keep up the fire because the wood is wet,”

Antoni Mantorski, Vice

Anti-migrant sentiment is currently very strong in Poland as ultranationalist groups are representing asylum seekers as an active threat to the nation. The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki released a statement on Tuesday condemning their search for shelter as a tactical move from Belarussian President Lukashenko: “We have to stop these aggressive hybrid actions, which are carried out according to a script written in Minsk and by Mr Lukashenko’s patrons.”

There are a few Polish civilian support groups that have showed up to the border, trying to communicate and provide assistance using a translator and a bullhorn. However, the current ruling right-wing party in Poland, the Law and Justice Party, which garnered its victory with a leading anti-migration campaign in 2015, is refusing support groups to cross over and reach the asylum seekers. Currently, hundreds of Polish armed forces have been sent to the border, tasked with setting up barbed wire fences which were deemed necessary after a few hundred illegal immigrants crossed the border in the past month.

Many humanitarian aid assistants feel that the push for a state of emergency is primarily to remove humanitarian aid groups and journalists from the scene. Doing such a thing will heighten the vulnerability of the current Afghan refugees stuck in the area, as Poland and Belarus battle out their personal vendettas. 

Marianna Wartecka, from the Ocalenie Foundation which has been stationed in the area monitoring the situation says: 

It’s a mechanism designed to respond to serious threats, acts of violence and terrorist attacks. That’s not the situation here, there’s nothing that threatens public safety on the border – the only thing that’s threatened is the lives of the people stuck there,

Marianna Wartecka, Vice

Once the state of emergency is called, it will be near impossible for NGOs to provide help to those stranded in this vicious no-man’s land. They will be pushed from one armed border to the next, like a cruel game of tennis that toys with people’s lives.

This is an urgent humanitarian crisis where it is clear that humanity is being actively denied and disrespected. Poland and Belarus are using the vulnerable livelihoods of these asylum seekers to impose pressure on one another for their own political schemes, completely disregarding the greater threat for those stuck in between. The lack of humanitarian awareness expressed by both countries is a sickening reality unfolding currently amongst Europe’s borders, demonstrating the dangers of rising anti-immigration policies. These are people, and they are unjustly being used as mere pawns. 

Read more on Understanding the Importance of Immigration Services here. 

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