Poland/Belarus: 32 Afghans trapped at border must be helped
Large group of Afghans, including a 15-year-old girl, marooned near Polish village of Usnarz Górny for more than a fortnight
Poland recently changed laws to prevent border crossings for refugees, while border guards reportedly made threats of violence
‘Poland is showing a callous response to their plight’ - Aleksandra Fertlińska
Poland must allow entry and provide humanitarian assistance to a group of 32 people from Afghanistan who have been held at the Poland-Belarus border without food, clean water, shelter or medicine for more than two weeks after being pushed back from Poland, Amnesty International said today.
Polish and Belarusian border guards have been keeping the group trapped in a small area at the border, as both countries avoid responsibility for the four women, 27 men and one 15-year-old girl.
Yesterday, Amnesty visited the Polish village of Usnarz Górny, close to where the group has been held for 15 days. Amnesty gathered reports about the use of force and threats of violence by Polish border guards when pushing the group back to Belarus.
Lawyers and health workers have been denied access to the group, including to assist them with their asylum claims. Human rights observers have also been denied direct access to them.
Meanwhile, there are reports that Belarusian border guards are helping people to cross over into Poland and Lithuania. In July, the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka said he would not prevent border crossings, apparently as a form of diplomatic threat.
Last week, 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. Last week, 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.
Amnesty is calling on the Polish authorities to end pushbacks, to reverse recent measures that bar entry to those seeking asylum, and to ensure full access to its territory to those seeking protection.
Aleksandra Fertlińska, Campaigner at Amnesty International Poland, said:
“These people are fleeing a desperate situation in Afghanistan. By surrounding them with armed border guards, Poland is showing a callous response to their plight.
“These people are trying to get to safety. The only appropriate response is for Poland and other EU countries at the border with Belarus to start meeting their international obligations, show solidarity and ensure that asylum-seekers have access to its territory and asylum procedures.”