How a Polish state of emergency makes migrants invisible

The first four deaths have fallen on the border between Poland and Belarus, they were probably killed by the cold. That is what the Polish Border Guard has announced. It‘s about people from Iraq and possibly Yemen. Hundreds of migrants are currently roaming the forests of the border area. For fear of pushbacks, people are hiding there.

Doctors and activists are very concerned. Because of the state of emergency, no one can control what is happening at the border.

Since July, the Belarusian government has been sending thousands of migrants to the EU’s borders – so-called pushbacks – to destabilise European countries. Poland has now declared a state of emergency; the area of about four kilometres wide along the four hundred kilometres long border with Belarus is suddenly off limits for anyone who does not live there.

Some people try to help anyway. One of those people is Doctor Paulina Bownik. โ€œThe state of emergency has been introduced September 3, since then we have no idea what happens to those people,โ€ she tells Nieuwsuur. โ€œPeople may not be good at it, because these are not humane conditions. It‘s really cold. It’s a soggy terrain.โ€

Other people are also trying to help the migrants. Like these activists, who go into the woods at night in search of people:

Polish border surveillance makes it no secret that it sends people back across borders, without them being able to apply for asylum. On the contrary: a spokesperson tells Nieuwsuur exactly how many people are involved.

โ€œIn September alone, we recorded more than 3,500 attempts to cross the border illegally,โ€ says spokesman Katarzyna Zdanowicz. โ€œIn total, we arrested more than 120 illegal migrants crossing the Polish-Belarusian border in September.โ€ Those people do have the right to an asylum application. In all other cases, more than 3300 times people have been sent back across the border.

Pushbacks are in breach of European asylum rules, but a new special regulation makes it easier for the Polish Government to return migrants. The Border Guard spokesperson is transparent about it. โ€œThey are informed that they are staying illegally in our country and returned to the border line, or back to Belarus.โ€

Human rights violations

What exactly is happening in the area is difficult to control due to the state of emergency. Media is not allowed to get there anymore. What we do see is mainly from the Belarusians: the regime shows almost daily images of the poor conditions of the migrants, to show how Poland and the European Union violate human rights.

Bownik and the activists try to provide help, but most Poles appreciate the hard border policy: 54 percent approve of a state of emergency. Government party Pis, responsible for the state of emergency, has even risen in the polls.

โ€œThese are economic migrants,โ€ an elderly man tells News Hour. โ€œThey don‘t run from war, but they want to make money.โ€ A woman says it’s better if the migrants don‘t come. โ€œWith so much, and we don’t know who they really are.โ€

The Polish Border Guard spokesperson wants to stress that not everyone is being returned. She points to a special detention centre, where there is especially for families who are allowed to apply for asylum.

Violating human rights does not have to be feared, according to spokesman Zdanowicz. โ€œThe officials are educated and have ethical principles that they always adhere to.โ€

According to the Polish authorities, there are some 10,000 migrants in Belarus who want to be smuggled to the European Union. As temperatures drop further in the coming weeks, there is a good chance that more deaths will fall. In response, the Polish government has announced that 500 additional military personnel will be sent to the border.