Polish soldiers adding barbed wire to the border between Poland and Belarus | Photo: Kancelaria Premiera (Polish Prime Minister's Office)
Polish soldiers adding barbed wire to the border between Poland and Belarus | Photo: Kancelaria Premiera (Polish Prime Minister's Office)

The Polish border guard stopped more than 50 migrants at the border with Belarus on Saturday. One soldier was reportedly injured after migrants threw stones at the guards.

The Polish border guard said it had detained a group of 55 migrants on Saturday, December 11, and returned them to the border, according to the German news agency dpa.

The migrants were found near the Polish village of Czeremsza on the Belarus border, just under 200 kilometers east of the Polish capital Warsaw. Polish officers say they were "pelted with stones by the migrants."

One soldier was hit in face "and had to be medically treated by a military doctor," according to dpa. In a tweet in Polish, translated by Google translate, the border guard reported that on Sunday, a total of "88 people tried to cross the border illegally."

They also mentioned that a "group of 60 aggressive people forcibly forced the border." According to the border guard, so far in December "838 attempts were made to illegally cross the border." In 24 hours over the weekend, the border guards registered "52 attempted border crossings," dpa reported.

Reinforcements for the fence

Meanwhile, Polish soldiers were busy at the Polish-Belarus border adding huge rolls of barbed wire to the fence there. Pictures published by the Polish government from the last few days show soldiers unrolling the wire along the river banks, and working with diggers and hammers to strengthen the barriers.

On December 10, the International Rescue Committee published an eyewitness account of their findings from the border, after Stefan Lehmeier, Deputy Director for Europe Programming at the IRC, visited the region.

According to Lehmeier, what he found after talking to people at the border was "not a migration crisis but a political crisis." In line with several other humanitarian organizations and NGOs, Lehmeier said that the migrants he spoke to reported Belarus "encouraging and even forcing them to cross the border" and "Poland ...meet[ing] them at the border with violence, turning them away and illegally denying them the right to seek asylum."

An eyewitness account

As a result, wrote Lehmeier, "people are finding themselves trapped outside in freezing temperatures. They are brutalized by border guards and shuffled back-and-forth between countries." Local activists, he wrote, described what is going on in the forests on both sides as being like the film "The Hunger Games," where people have to outrun others who must kill them in order to survive.

Activists on the Polish side told Lehmeier that they don’t know "how many people are hiding, waiting in the forest on either side of the border, because we can’t go there and because they are too scared to reach out for help. It could be hundreds. Or it could be thousands."

The activist explained that the area was remote with "deep swamps." One man Lehmeier met "broke his leg trying to escape the mire." At least 13 people have died attempting to cross the border region since the summer.

Appeal launched

Lehmeier finished by saying he was "haunted by the story of a pregnant woman who had suffered abuse, violence and uncertainty to reach safety, but who now needed emergency surgery." The woman, said Lehmeier, had two other children with her too. She was so scared her children would be taken away from her, she asked not to be anesthetized during the surgery, in order to try to protect her children.

The IRC has launched an emergency response appeal to support local organizations in Poland. They also encourage people to speak out if they are concerned about what is going on at the borders. "People must not underestimate the power of their voices," concluded Lehmeier.

On Friday, a further 400 migrants were flown out of Belarus but thousands remain at the border, still hoping to cross into Poland. The Polish government has been busy in recent days raising the issue of migration with other European leaders, including the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

 

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