Ten Kurdish asylum seekers in Poland have now been refusing to eat for three weeks straight in protest of what they described as prison-like conditions and slow asylum procedures.
"The strike began on May 4," said Dagmara Bielec, a spokeswoman for the Polish border guard, adding that the six Iraqis and four Turks have requested asylum and are staying at a immigration holding center in Lesznowola, near the capital Warsaw.
Citing a spokesman for the hunger strikers, news agency AFP reported that nine of the migrants had crossed into Poland from Belarus and had spent several months "confined" to the center.
The strikers were "very weak, with some of them having begun to refuse beverages too," the man said about the strikers, speaking on condition of anonymity.
According to AFP, the asylum seekers are protesting the food, limited telephone and Internet access, difficulties contacting lawyers and other things related to their confinement.
Spokeswoman Bielec said "staff at the center have continued to speak to the strikers about their conditions and legal situation, notably trying to convince them to abandon the hunger strike... but to no avail."
Citing news website Iraqi News, NGO alliance ECRE (European Council on Refugees and Exiles) tweeted on Monday (May 30) that the hunger strike on the Polish-Belarussian border entered its third week.
Since last May, thousands of mainly Middle Eastern migrants have been trying to reach Poland, Lithuania and Latvia -- all members of the European Union -- via Belarus, sparking a humanitarian crisis as they remained stranded on the EU external border for weeks in freezing conditions. In the Polish-Belarusian border region alone, at least 19 bodies presumed to be of migrants have been found since September 2021.
The EU has been accusing Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating the influx by encouraging migrants from countries like Iran and Afghanistan to fly to the capital Minsk and ferrying them to the EU's external borders.
Rights activists have condemned Poland's strict response -- constructing a barbed wire fence and committing pushbacks --, pointing to the fact that Poland has simultaneously been welcoming Ukrainian war refugees with open arms.
Uptick in arrivals
In April, Polish authorities said that the number of people trying to cross into Poland irregularly was on the rise again. The latest migrants trying to enter Poland, however, did not travel directly from their countries to Belarus, according to the Polish border guard, but were taking a new route via Dubai and Russia.
Late last year, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq took various measures to prevent migrants from flying directly to Belarus with the aim of entering the EU. The moves led to a drop in the number of people gathered along the Polish border, a trend Polish authorities say may be reversed.
A month ago, a group of Syrian asylum seekers detained in a closed center south of Warsaw also went into hunger strike. The men said they were treated "like criminals". And last November, a group of around 100 mostly Iraqi migrants were holding a hunger protest over conditions in the Polish reception center in Wędrzyn where they were being held. The strike was the second of its kind at the center in Wędrzyn.