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Poland: Declaration of state of emergency puts Afghan refugees at risk

Refugees stranded at the polish-belarusian border
Refugees stranded at the polish-belarusian border © Piotr Rojewski

State of emergency declaration risks worsening already dire situation for group of Afghans at the border

‘The authorities are attempting to cynically exploit this power to target people seeking asylum’ - Nils Muižnieks

The Polish government’s declaration of a “state of emergency” at the border with Belarus presents serious risks for asylum-seekers trying to reach Poland and threatens to exacerbate the already dire situation faced by the group of 32 Afghans being pushed back, Amnesty International said today.

The state of emergency will restrict the already limited access and work of journalists reporting on the issue as it bans the use of recording equipment in the area. It will also hinder the work of lawyers assisting the asylum-seekers, as well as NGOs and activists carrying out vital human rights monitoring.

The group of Afghans trapped in the Polish village of Usnarz Górny includes four women, 27 men and a 15-year-old girl. They been held there without adequate food and clean water for over three weeks, after being pushed back from Poland.

Amnesty is calling on Poland’s government to end pushbacks, to ensure access to the territory for those seeking protection, and to immediately provide refugees held at the border with Belarus with essential humanitarian assistance.

Nils Muižnieks Director for Europe at Amnesty International, said:

“A state of emergency allows a state to restrict certain human rights in extreme circumstances where there is a ‘threat to the life of the nation’. No such threat exists in Poland. The authorities are attempting to cynically exploit this power to target people seeking asylum and those who support them.

“While UNHCR and Red Cross have provided basic support, we remind the Polish authorities to fully comply with last week’s European Court of Human Rights order to provide those stuck at the border with food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and shelter.

“Poland must also ensure individual assessment of all asylum claims, and enable organisations, lawyers and other institutions to gain unhindered access to the group.”

Amnesty International visited Usnarz Górny

Amnesty has been monitoring the situation, and on 24 August the organisation visited Usnarz Górny. Amnesty also obtained reports about the use of force and threats of violence by Polish border guards when pushing the group back to Belarus.

Changes to Polish law

Since the group arrived at the border, the Polish government announced changes to two laws concerning foreign nationals. These make it impossible for people crossing the border irregularly to claim asylum in Poland.

On 20 August, the Polish Ministry of Interior issued an order to close its borders to persons entering the country “irregularly” forcing them to immediately leave the territory of Poland until further notice.

Under EU and international refugee law, Poland is obliged to ensure individual assessments are made of all asylum claims.

Push backs and building fences

On 25 August, Polish army soldiers started building a fence on the border with Belarus.

There are reports that Belarusian border guards are helping people to cross over into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

On 6 July, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that he would not stop people crossing the border into those countries. However, Amnesty said that this must not be used as an excuse for unlawful pushbacks of asylum-seekers and denial of access to the asylum procedure.

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