While Poland’s government touts its role in the airlift of at-risk Afghans from Kabul, it has trapped 32 Afghans for over 3 weeks at its border with Belarus, preventing them from entering Poland to exercise their right to seek asylum and denying them access to food and medicine.
The almost 1,000 Afghans airlifted to Poland were given access to Poland’s asylum process, while the group in the border area, who have told border guards they are seeking asylum, are being denied the opportunity to do so.
Activists, members of parliament, and humanitarians in Poland are trying to get basic supplies and medicine to the Afghans sandwiched between Polish and Belarussian border guards. The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Poland to allow aid to reach them, but the government has yet to do so. The United Nations refugee agency has called on Poland to allow the group to apply for asylum.
Unfortunately, the plight of the Afghans stuck at the border is just the tip of the iceberg. Reliable media reports say Polish border guards increasingly, and unlawfully, push people back across the border to Belarus, sometimes using excessive force. Pushbacks are illegal under international and EU law, as any removal from territory should only take place after due process is followed.
Poland’s government justifies its approach by claiming Belarus is encouraging people to move to the Polish border in response to EU sanctions on its government. But Polish pushbacks at the Belarus border are nothing new.
In 2017, I extensively documented pushbacks at the formal border crossing with Belarus in Terespol. Asylum seekers, mainly from Chechnya, were routinely denied access to Poland’s asylum procedures, and were forcibly returned by train to Brest, Belarus. Access to asylum in Belarus was and remains virtually non-existent.
Poland’s government should immediately halt unlawful pushbacks, hold those responsible to account, and allow people seeking asylum to submit claims in Poland. The government should also promptly allow access for the 32 stranded Afghans to Polish territory and its asylum process, and ensure they receive food and medical care they need.
Whether stuck at a European border or evacuating from Afghanistan, people seeking international protection should be treated with dignity and respect, and their protection claims should be fairly heard.