Poland has begun building a new €353 million wall along its border with Belarus. The barrier is aimed at keeping migrants out of the country, and out of the European Union.
Polish contractors began work on Tuesday, January 25, on the new barrier along the border with Belarus. The 5.5-meter high wall will be 186 kilometers long -- almost half the total length of the border between the two countries.
The aim of the wall, to be completed by June, is to keep migrants from crossing into Poland from non-EU Member State Belarus.
Thousands of migrants --mostly from the Middle East – have crossed or tried to cross the border since the middle of last year, prompting Poland to erect a temporary razor wire barrier and deploy thousands of armed soldiers and police.
The number of attempted crossings has fallen this year, but some people are still braving extremely cold conditions in an effort to cross.
According to the Polish border guards, 810 people have tried to cross the border from Belarus since the beginning of the year. In the whole of last year, almost 40,000 such attempts were registered.
On Tuesday (January 25) the Border Guard said on Twitter that 17 people had made the crossing in the past 24 hours. One group of 11 Iranians, two Lebanese and one Syrian had "cut the razor wire fence and crossed into Poland," border guards said, adding that they had been detained, along with another group of three people from Ghana who crossed over at a different part of the border.
Hundreds seek help at border
Polish aid workers say the crisis on the border is not over, with hundreds of migrants asking for humanitarian, medical or legal help during the past three weeks.
There are many people on the Belarusian side who are still waiting for an opportunity to reach the EU, Monika Matus of the action alliance Border Group told the dpa news agency.
"Those who make it across the border now are mostly in a much worse physical condition than in the months before," Matus said. This is due to the winter weather and the fact that the Polish side of the border is heavily guarded and difficult to cross, she said.
The solid wall now being built will almost certainly make it harder, if not impossible, for migrants to seek asylum in Poland in future.
Concerns have also been raised about the wall’s impact on the environment, which is mostly forested. A spokesperson for the Polish Border Guard, Anna Michalska, said the intention was to do as little damage as possible, Poland's PAP news agency reported.
Europe's anti-migrant barriers
The new wall between Poland and Belarus comes in addition to barriers stretching tens of thousands of kilometers at the external borders of the European Union.
They include walls between Greece and Turkey, which are interspersed with towers and surveillance equipment, and between Bulgaria and Turkey. A barbed wire barrier divides Hungary from Serbia and Croatia. Slovenia has also fenced-off its border with Croatia.
Austria started putting up an anti-migrant barrier on part of its border with Slovenia in December 2015, the first within the Schengen area. Another smaller barrier followed on the Brenner Pass with Italy. Both have since become overgrown with vegetation and breached with gaps for walkers, wildlife and local farmers.
France has built about a dozen kilometers of "anti-intrusion" walls and fences around its northern port of Calais and the entrance to the Channel Tunnel to stop migrants crossing to Britain. As a result, most migrants now try to cross the Channel in small boats, with a record 1,185 attempting the crossing one day in November 2021.
The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast – Europe's only land borders with Africa – are also surrounded by kilometers of fences and barbed wire.
With dpa, AFP