From file: The barbed-wire border fence between Poland and Belarus | Photo: Viktor Tolochko/Sputnik/dpa/picture alliance
From file: The barbed-wire border fence between Poland and Belarus | Photo: Viktor Tolochko/Sputnik/dpa/picture alliance

The body of a Syrian has been found in a river in the border region between Poland and Belarus. It's the eighth recorded migrant death since the beginning of the surge in arrivals. Meanwhile, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe have criticized EU member Poland for its treatment of migrants.

On Wednesday (October 20), Polish divers found the body of a 19-year-old Syrian man in a river on the Polish-Belarusian border. That's according to news agency Reuters, which referred to Polish state news agency PAP, which in turn cited police and border guards.

According to Reuters, the border guards started searching for the Syrian on Tuesday when they caught another Syrian who said Belarusian authorities pushed him and another man into the river.

Divers found the body on Wednesday in the river Bug, which forms part of the some 400-kilometer long border between Poland and Belarus. "His identity was confirmed by the other young man with whom he tried to illegally cross the Bug a day earlier. We also found documents on the body. So there is no doubt that's the 19-year-old Syrian citizen," a police spokesman told PAP.

Last week, a 24-year-old man from Syria was found dead in a field near the village of Klimowka. He was the seventh person to have died along the Polish border with Belarus border over the past few months, when thousands of mainly Middle Eastern migrants were trying to reach the European Union via Belarus. They chose paths to EU member states Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. Around 15,000 migrants have gathered at the Polish-Belarusian border since then.

Council of Europe criticizes pushbacks

In an online statement published on Thursday (October 21), the Council of Europe (CoE) said human rights violations "proliferate at an alarming rate," particularly "the denial of access to asylum" and forcibly expelling migrants "without individual safeguards," which is "frequently accompanied by brutal violence or even the endangerment of human life."

These illegal returns, so-called pushbacks, refer to the practice of preventing people from seeking protection on their territory by forcibly returning them to another country, generally immediately after they crossed it. They are illegal, as they violate international law and human rights, including the principle of non-refoulement and the right of migrants to claim asylum after they cross a border.

The CoE also called on the governments of EU member states to stop any policy or legislative initiative that "would result in the attempted, so-called normalisation of pushbacks and eliminate crucial safeguards to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants at borders."

"Member states must take a stand against pushbacks at borders and clearly oppose attempts to legalise this illegal practice", said Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

Together with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the CoE is committed to upholding human rights in its 47 member states. The two entities are completely independent from all other EU institutions.

'Slap in the face of international law'

Echoing the criticism by the CoE, Amnesty International on Wednesday (October 20) accused Poland of violently pushing back 17 Afghan refugees into Belarus.

In an online statement, Amnesty claims that Polish security forces forcibly apprehended the group of migrants on Wednesday while they were trying to cross the barbed wire fence into Poland. They then held the migrants in a guardroom and pushed back over the border into Belarus.

According to Amnesty, the 17 migrants were part of a group of 32 Afghans who have been living at a makeshift camp at the border with Belarus since August. They were supposed to receive food, water, clothing, medical care and possibly a temporary shelter from Poland at the direction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which also banned the authorities from returning the group to Belarus, so long as they are in Poland.

Since the appeal went unanswered, the ECHR in late September once again asked Poland to provide assistance to the 32 Afghans. In late August, CoE human rights commissioner Mijatović had already called on Poland to protect the human rights of theses Afghans.

In its statement, Amnesty's regional director for Europe Nils Muiz called Poland's action "a slap in the face of international law and the human right to seek asylum." The pushback "blatantly disregards" the aforementioned ECHR ruling, Muiz said.

"This group of Afghan people has been held in abysmal conditions at the Polish-Belarus border for two months now," added Muiz, who was the CoE commissioner for human rights from 2012 until 2018.

Geopolitical conflict

Underlying the recent spike in irregular migrant arrivals to the EU via Belarus is a complicated geopolitical conflict. In May, Lukashenko's security forces diverted a Ryanair plane with a Belarusian activist on board flying from Greece to Lithuania. As a result, the EU imposed sanctions on Belarus.

In return, Lukashenko indicated that Belarus could retaliate by loosening border controls for irregular, western-bound migrants as well as drug trafficking.

Since then, EU institutions and the governments of EU countries have repeatedly accused Lukashenko of allowing people from countries like Iraq and Lebanon to travel toward the bloc's external borders via Belarus to put pressure on the EU and sow division. On Wednesday, Germany's interior minister, Horst Seehofer, accused Belarus of organizing human trafficking, calling it a form of "hybrid threat by weaponizing migrants."

With KNA, dpa, Reuters


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