Several progressive and rights groups in Poland organized a demonstration in front of the Border Guard Headquarters in capital Warsaw on Wednesday, August 25 to protest the apathy of the border security forces and the authorities towards refugees stranded at Poland’s border with Belarus. The border guards had reportedly intimidated the refugees stranded at Usnarz Górny (Podlasie) on the border and stopped them from entering Polish territory to seek asylum.
The call for the protest was given by groups like Warsaw Youth Circle of Workers Initiative, Democracy campaign, and Salvation Foundation, among others. The protesters claimed that the Polish border guards have violated the norms of the Geneva Convention, as well as Polish law, by not allowing the refugees to submit asylum applications. The Polish left, Lewica-Razem, also extended solidarity with the refugees and demanded that the Law and Justice party (PiS) government immediately provide them humanitarian assistance.
Strajk.eu reported that the demonstrators raised slogans and banners with messages such as, “Border of Shame”, “Enough cruelty!”, “Enough of the policy of torture and humiliation!”, ” We do not want Polish borders of death”, “Decency more important than an order”, and “Let’s accept refugees, down the Nazis”.
Ongoing political hostilities between the Belarusian government and the European Union (EU) have resulted in tensions at the borders of the former with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. As a result, hundreds of refugees remain stranded, leading to a humanitarian crisis. Pro-EU sections have claimed that in response to the sanctions on Belarus, the Alexander Lukashenko-led regime has deliberately allowed a large number of refugees from West Asia to use Belarusian territory to reach the Baltic states in Europe in order to “unsettle” the political and social equilibrium of these countries. The EU recently sanctioned Belarus for cracking down on the anti-Lukashenko protests and detaining pro-EU journalists. Progressive sections in the region have appealed to all sides to not let political hostilities between the EU and Belarus affect the refugees’ pursuit for asylum and cause a humanitarian crisis.
The EU and the governments in Poland and adjacent states have been allegedly sponsoring the anti-Lukashenko protests in Belarus. Pro-Lukashenko sections have denounced the EU-instigated protests as imperialist maneuvers to integrate Belarus into the EU fold with an eye on privatizing the country’s resources.
According to reports, the Polish government is likely to impose a state of emergency in its counties bordering Belarus to curb the ‘refugee problem’. While the Polish government has taken a hard stance against refugees, many sections of Polish society want a cordial policy towards asylum seekers. According to an IBRiS survey commissioned by Rzeczpospolita, 23% Poles want to admit refugees to Polish territory and 46% believe that the state should provide humanitarian aid to the refugees.
The organizers of the solidarity demonstration stated, “We represent different political views, different values. However, we are united by our opposition to torture and unimaginable harm that the Border Guard inflicts on defenseless, frightened people like us on behalf of the Polish state and Polish society. We do not agree to this. It is not on our behalf. The Polish state today does not defend sovereignty, security, or law. It works against Polish society.”
Lewica-Razem stated, “Refugees are people who escape hunger, war and death. It is our human duty to help them. Scaring poor people who are hungry, trapped, sick and dying, to raise capital is disgusting.”
Lewica-Razem called on the Polish government to accept, feed, and treat the refugees who are camping in Usnarz, a north-eastern Polish village situated close to the border with Belarus.