Legal situation at Polish-Belarusian border: court verdict in the case of push-backs and arrests of activists
On March 28, 2022 the District Court in Bielsk Podlaski, VII Local Criminal Division in Hajnówka, ruled that three Afghans who had crossed the Polish-Belarusian border in August 2021 had been illegally detained by the Border Guard (case no. VII Kp 203/21). It was the first time such a decision was rendered. On its basis, refugees may seek compensation.
The court explained its decision with the fact that men had expressed their will to apply for international protection and the Border Guard had been aware of it (it had been recorded). Nevertheless, foreigners had been arrested without the possibility of seeing an attorney and they had been taken in the middle of the night to the Białowieża Primeval Forest in order to be moved over to the Belarusian side using the push-back method. The foreigners had not been informed about the reason for their detention, nor had they been acquainted with their rights. BG defended itself with the argument that there had been no formal detention (no protocol had been drawn up), but only a „restriction of liberty”. The court rejected that explanation, adding that the BG activities had been inhumane.
The second of the issues considered by the court was the matter of the "Pushback Regulation", which had been introduced by the Ministry of Interior and Administration, under which Border Guard pushed people to the Belarusian side of the border. It was declared illegal by the court, as the Minister had no power to decide about the situation of people who crossed the border outside the border crossing area. The same regulation was challenged by the Ombudsman, Marcin Wiącek, as violating international law (including the Geneva Convention, the EU CPP and the ECHR).
In February, the prosecution (this time by the Association for Legal Intervention) was also filed with the European Court of Human Rights. The basis of it was not only the push-back method but also very bad living conditions in Polish refugee centers. It refers to the lack of sufficient space, poor sanitation and lack of access to medical and psychological help (read more: http://www.forintegration.eu/pl/poland-violates-european-law-the-association-for-legal-intervention-files-a-complaint-to-the-european-commission, http://www.forintegration.eu/pl/conditions-in-centres-for-foreigners-inhumane-says-ombudsman-and-ngos).
Despite this court decision, push-backs and inhumane treatment are still being practiced by the Border Guard. This also applies to children and sick people who are deprived of medical care. The problem has intensified after the liquidation of the Belarusian camp in Bruzgi. Moreover, recently there have been cases of arrests of activists (including activists from the Border Group and the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia) who were helping foreigners in the woods. They are charged with organizing illegal border crossings, punishable by up to 8 years' imprisonment and applied for pre-trial detention. Activists also noted the searches of their houses and the use of inadequate coercive measures. Although they were released from detention, investigations against them are underway.
The situation at the Polish-Belarusian border contrasts with the one at the border with Ukraine, where all refugees are welcomed with open arms and immediately cared for. International humanitarian organizations are calling for an end to the application of double standards to foreigners arriving in Poland through the Eastern borders.