Human Rights Watch (HRW) says a standoff at the border between Belarus and Poland is leading to “serious” human rights violations against migrants and asylum seekers by the governments of both countries.
In a report published on November 24, the New York-based human rights watchdog quoted people trapped on the border as saying they had been “pushed back, sometimes violently,” by Polish border guards to Belarus.
“On the Belarusian side, accounts of violence, inhuman and degrading treatment and coercion by Belarusian border guards were commonplace,” it added.
Since August, thousands of people, mainly from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, have traveled to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, through Middle East-based holiday tour operators making false claims of easy EU entry, according to HRW.
The EU accuses Minsk of pushing the migrants to cross into Poland and fellow EU members Lithuania and Latvia to destabilize the bloc in response to sanctions imposed following a brutal crackdown by authoritarian leader Akyaksandr Lukashenka in the wake of a disputed election in August last year.
“While Belarus manufactured this situation without regard for the human consequences, Poland shares responsibility for the acute suffering in the border area,” said Lydia Gall, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at HRW.
“Men, women, and children have been ping-ponged across the border for days or weeks in freezing weather, desperately needing humanitarian assistance that is being blocked on both sides.”
The rights group traveled to both countries in October and interviewed 19 migrants who told “harrowing stories of trudging through forests, swamps, marshlands, and rivers in freezing temperatures for days and even weeks without food or water.”
As many as 13 migrants have died at the border since the crisis began.
HRW said that both Belarus and Poland have an obligation to prevent further deaths by ensuring regular humanitarian access to people stuck in the border area.