Poland: Child refugees forced back over the border
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Escalating conflict on the Polish-Belarusian border led MPs in Poland to agree on the construction of a wall – in the words of Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski, a “solid, high barrier, with a surveillance system and motion detectors”.
Since August, thousands of migrants and refugees, mostly from Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have attempted to enter the EU from Belarus via Poland and, to a lesser extent, via Latvia and Lithuania.
The final destination of most is Germany.
EU leaders blame Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko — who is backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin — for allowing the illegal passage of migrants from war-torn and poverty-stricken countries into the bloc as retaliation against sanctions imposed following the August 2020 presidential election, which the EU dubbed “neither free nor fair”, thus not recognising its results.
Poland responded to the unprecedented entry of migrants by sending troops to the border and implementing a state of emergency that prevents journalists and charity workers from going there.
It also rushed to build a razor-wire fence that, nevertheless, proved not to solve the problem.
Last week, Polish lawmakers gave the go-ahead to build a gigantic — and naturally controversial — wall with a budget of €353million (about £297million) that some critics say is going to waste.
President Andrzej Duda vowed to sign the law that will allow the construction in the coming days.
Following the model of the fence on the Greek border with Turkey, it is set to not only represent a physical barrier but also be equipped with modern electronic devices such as motion sensors and day and night vision cameras.
180-kilometre-long, it will consist of several lines of protection.
The most visible core of the fortification, which the Polish government calls a “barrier”, is to be five and a half metres high – the last half meter to be completed with rolls of barbed wire on steel pillars.
750 additional officers are to guard the border once the wall is completed, which is expected to be the case by the end of June next year.
Warsaw’s steps to curb illegal border crossings have drawn criticism that migrants are being treated inhumanely.
Last month, the Polish parliament passed a law allowing border guards to immediately expel migrants who cross the border illegally.
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It also gave them the power to reject applications for international asylum without review.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Poland is in breach of international law in trying to force migrants back into Belarus instead of offering them asylum.
Meanwhile, 12 EU member nations, including Poland, are calling for the bloc to pay for walls.
The EU has rejected this petition, choosing instead to “keep up the pressure on the Lukashenko regime”.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said last month: “I was very clear that there is a longstanding view in the European Commission and in the European parliament that there will be no funding of barbed wire and walls.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki insisted the country was “under attack” from Belarus and the wall was, therefore, essential to “protect” the nation.
About 500 people are reportedly trying to cross into the country illegally from Belarus every day.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.
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