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A family sit by the fire in a tent camp on the Belarusian-Polish border. Alamy Stock Photo
border crisis

Irish aid worker claims migrants in Poland/Belarus area have been beaten and electrocuted

At least ten people have already died in the region in recent weeks.

AN IRISH AID WORKER who has visited in the Poland/Belarus border region has claimed that migrants trapped in the area have been beaten with rifles and electrocuted while attempting to get to safety. 

Concerns have also been raised that more people will die in freezing conditions if the situation in the area is not resolved soon.  

Thousands are currently stranded in a politically created no-man’s land between Belarus and Poland, amid a delay in life-saving medical treatment reaching them.

People have been heading to Belarus from the Middle East seeking shelter since last year, but are being told to head to the country’s border with Poland, the closest border to the EU, upon arrival.

However, Poland is seeking to return those who arrive across that border back to Belarus, and a stalemate has developed between the two countries over who should accept them.

At least ten people have already died during this impasse.

The numbers now stranded between Belarus, Lithuania and Poland are estimated to be in the thousands by humanitarian observers. 

The migrants and refugees are essentially “trapped”, according to Kyle McNally, who spent time in the region for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

He has warned that vulnerable people are being subjected to violence, and that they have no water or food or sanitation.

Speaking to The Journal, he said that people are being used as political currency and that what is happening now is a matter of life and death.

“It’s a really alarming situation. We have people who are stuck in there and in a desperate state. It’s getting worse.

“There are women, children and men trapped in a forest, enduring extremely cold temperatures as well as violence with little to no regard for their protection. More people are going to die. These people deserve to be treated with dignity and they are not.”

McNally said he has seen first-hand the effects of the violence meted out to the migrants in the region.

“I have seen the injuries people have experienced. People have shown their injuries after being beaten with a butt of a rifle, electrocuted in the neck, that kind of thing,” he said.

“People have also had their belongings destroyed or stolen by the border guards.”

Right now, MSF, as well as other humanitarian organisations, are barred from entering the forest with potentially life-saving aid because of an exclusion zone set up in the region, which prohibits journalists and NGOs from entering.

MSF have said that there is a need for political leaders to stop ramping up the rhetoric about the situation and to deal with it as a humanitarian crisis.

“They are saying it is like a hybrid war. But these are real people and they deserve to be treated with dignity,” he said.

“This is clearly a political issue and there is a big contest going on between them regardless of what is happening. That political solution is not going to keep people warm tonight.

“We need EU leaders to step up and grant humanitarian access to capable organisations to provide the help required.

“This is not war. These people are not weapons. They are people huddled in a cold, damp forest with an uncertain fate.”

What the EU is saying

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki yesterday described the crisis as a manfistation of “state terrorism” and squarely laid the blame for what is happening in Belarus.

Yesterday saw a surge in attempts to breach the Polish border which led to police pushing back hundreds of migrants to Belarus.

Western governments have accused Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko of luring them to his country and sending them to cross into Poland in retaliation for sanctions.

“What we are facing here, we must be clear, is a manifestation of state terrorism”, Morawiecki said in Warsaw at a press conference with visiting EU chief Charles Michel.

Michel said new sanctions against Belarus “are on the table” and that EU members would consult on the issue on Monday.

The recent tensions between the EU, Poland and Belarus stem from the controversial 2020 presidential election in which Lukashenko claimed he had won.

His victory is not accepted by the EU who say the election was rigged. In May last year, Belarus incurred EU sanctions following the alleged ‘state-sponsored hijacking’ of a Ryanair plane carrying a Belarusian opposition journalist.

There have now been calls for Russia to get involved in the crisis. As Belarus’ biggest backer, Vladimir Putin has been asked to intervene.

German leader Angela Merkel phoned Putin to ask him to get Belarus to stop the “inhumane” instrumentalisation of migrants, her spokesman said yesterday.

“She underlined that the instrumentalisation of migrants by the Belarusian regime is inhumane and unacceptable, and asked President Putin to use his influence” to end it, wrote Steffen Seibert on Twitter.

But Putin suggested the European Union should engage in “direct contacts” with Minsk on the issue, the Kremlin said in a separate statement from Moscow about the phone call.

McNally said that all he and his colleagues at MSF wish to do is to enter the camp to make sure there is no more loss of life.

“We want to get in there and see what is needed. We are ready to go. We just need to get access.”

- With reporting by AFP.

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