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Polish-Belarusian Border: Asylum Seekers Stranded in Limbo

From the beginning of 2021, the officers from the Podlasie Border Guard Unit detained 871 people for unauthorized crossing of the Polish-Belarusian border (as per information dated on 9th of August). On the 4th of August alone, 62 people were detained for crossing the Polish-Belarusian border.

According to the Border Guard Unit, 50 citizens of Iraq, 11 citizens of Iran and one citizen of Cameroon were detained. During the second weekend of August, a total of 349 foreigners were detained for crossing the border from Belarus to Poland. According to the Border Guard, these migrants are probably citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. The largest group of 85 people was detained on Saturday, 7th of August. After confirming the identity of the newcomers as well as running the Covid-19 tests, they were placed in guarded centres for foreigners.

According to experts, the porosity of the Belarusian borders is the effect of Alexander Lukashenka’s deliberate action in connection with the sanctions imposed by the European Union. The Belarusian leader also suggested that the EU should start reaching an agreement with Belarus on financial compensation for stopping the influx of refugees.

In recent days, Lithuania and Latvia have tightened up their border protection procedures. Initially, Belarus has been directing large groups of migrants towards the Lithuanian border, with the country receiving over 4,000 migrants this year, 50 times more than in the whole of 2020. However, the efforts to prevent the migrants from arriving, involving different deterrent strategies such as pushbacks, have allegedly resulted in a considerable decline in the numbers of migrants trying to enter Lithuania. These groups included mainly Iraqis who can legally fly to Minsk from Baghdad and Istanbul. 

At the same time, over the past month Poland and Latvia have started reporting considerable growth in migrants trying to cross their borders with Belarus. Both Lithuania and Latvia are now officially pushing back migrants trying to enter the countries outside of official border control points. Recently Poland began preparing to do the same, which could mean that migrants will end up being caught in a dangerous back-and-forth across borders, with no public authorities monitoring how their rights are being respected throughout this limbo.

Pushbacks’ legalisation
Officially, according to the Border Guard, Poland is not conducting pushbacks at the moment and every person apprehended is entitled go through the asylum process. Nevertheless, the Polish government is preparing to realistically legalise pushbacks, following the example of its Baltic neighbours. A draft law that was recently published intends to enable the authorities to deny processing asylum applications requested by those migrants who cross the border beyond the official crossing points.
Such directives seem to be contrary to both national legislation and the 1951 Geneva Convention on the rights of refugees, that preserved the principle of non-refoulement in international law that goes as follows: a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life and freedom.

The scheme announced by Poland and the Baltics to officially make the pushbacks legal is seriously jeopardizing safety and well-being of vulnerable people. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to imply that Lukashenko is exploiting the migration pressure on the neighbouring countries as a way to strike back against the EU for imposing strict sanctions on Belarus after a falsified presidential election last year. Lukashenka’s deliberate actions leading to the exploitation of asylum-seekers precarious situation as weapon in his hybrid war with the European Union triggered the movement within the networks of intermediaries operating between Belarus and the countries of origin of the migrants. Those in need to flee and eager to enter one of the European countries have been offered another way to reach safety in the West.

The border guards operating within Podlasie region, situated in the north-eastern part of Poland including the border area, have observed the significant increase in the number of migrants making an attempt to cross the border beyond the authorized control points. Up to 500 people have been detained between the 2nd of August and the 9th of August alone. The last official update on the Border Guard website was published on 9th August and currently all the inquiries concerning arrivals are redirected to the Interior Ministry. 
Considering that some Baltic states are already officially use pushbacks and others followed by Poland are planning to introduce specific laws allowing for such actions, the fundamental rights to safety and asylum of migrants arriving at these borders are being jeopardized, with no public authority supervising the situation. As for now, it seems that there is no official agency within the European framework that is able and willing to take responsibility for migrants’ safety.
As numerous deterrent strategies are legalized and being put into force, the states in the region operate with an original belief that Belarus is a safe third country for migrants, even if paradoxically since the beginning of 2021 Lithuania and Poland are among the main destinations of Belarussian refugees fleeing Lukashenka’s regime. 


Alicja Szczutowska
NIEM’s National Coalition Officer
The Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs