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Pushbacks on Polish-Belarus border

Polish Border Guards push asylum seekers back into Belarus without considering their claims for international protection. Groups of women, men, families with children from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Kongo have been blocked between Poland and Belarus without any access to humanitarian aid and medical assistance. Despite the humanitarian crisis, multiply illegal pushbacks take place every day. Journalists, layers and activist collect evidences and accuse Poland of violation of the European and International law.

What are pushbacks?

Pushbacks are state measures based on forced return (without due process) of people seeking international protection back to the border line. Cross-border expulsions violate fundamental principles of the Geneva Convention and international asylum law. According to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment  (A/HRC/37/50), pushbacks “usually involve the threat or use of force by border officials in order to prevent migrants from approaching or crossing the border” . Moreover such practices are inconsistent with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland and violate principles laid down in  the Law of 13 June 2003 on granting protection to foreigners within the territory of the Republic of Poland (Journal of Laws 2012 pos. 680) (Law on Protection), the Law of 12 December 2013 on foreigners (Journal of Laws 2013 pos. 1650).

The Polish government authorising illegal practices 

On August 21, 2021, the Minister of Interior and Administration amended the ordinance on the temporary suspension or limitation of border traffic at certain border crossing points (Journal of Laws of 2021, item 1536) allowing border guards to deport migrants, in case of illegal crossings, to the state border from undefined territory.

Already on September 2, 2021, national authorities declared a state of emergency for a period of 30 days in a stretch of the border with Belarus covering 115 municipalities in Podlasie and 68 in the Lublin Province . On September 29, President Andrzej Duda decided to sign an extension of the state of emergency for another 60 days.

With the introduction of a state of emergency in the area, the access for media, human right activists, layers to the territory has been banned. They are not allowed to provide any kind of support  or monitor  illegal pushbacks.

Humanitarian crisis 

Already six people, including a women and 16-years old boy, have died in recent days from hypothermia and exhaustion.  Human rights activists alarm that the condition of migrants is getting worse and an ongoing humanitarian crisis will lead to further victims. The informal coalition “Grupa Granica”, which associates NGO organisations, layers, journalists, activist, operates in the region, nevertheless access to people stuck on the border is limited. According to activists, only during the last weekend (2-3 October 2021), they have received requests for help from 143 people.

Human rights activists estimate that there could be around 200 people who have been pushed to Belarus side for several times. According to evidences provided by migrants themselves in messages and video-recordings sent to human rights activists, border guards repeatedly deport them despite the extreme exhaustion, beat and forcibly take away migrants personal belongings. People  remain in forests for weeks without food and appropriate warm clothes. The number of people transported to hospitals in critical condition has been increasing. Nevertheless, activists from “Grupa Granica” reported that even after the emergency ambulance intervention, Border Guards  had refused to transport people to hospitals under the pretext of verification of identity and during the night or the next day had deported migrants deep into the forest. 

Kseniya Homel 
NIEM’s Field Researcher 
The Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs


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