Poland/Belarus: Protect Afghans stuck at border

  • Spokespeople returned from visiting the border available for interview

Poland must allow entry and provide humanitarian assistance to a group of 32 people from Afghanistan who have been held at the border between Poland and Belarus without food, clean water, shelter and medicine for two weeks after being pushed back from Poland.

Polish and Belarussian border guards have been keeping the group trapped in a small area on the border, as both countries avoid responsibility for the four women, 27 men and one 15-year-old girl.

On 24 August an Amnesty International delegation visited Usnarz Górny, where the group has been held for 15 days. Amnesty International also obtained reports about the use of force and threats of violence by Polish border guards when pushing the group back to Belarus.

“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.”

Aleksandra Fertlińska, Campaigner at Amnesty International Poland

Lawyers and health-workers have not been to allowed to access the group to assist them with their asylum claims. Human rights observers have also been denied direct access to them.

There are reports that Belarusian border guards are helping people to cross over into Poland and Lithuania. On 6 July President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus warned that he would not stop the crossing of people across the border.

Last week the Polish government announced changes to two laws; one on foreigners, and another on granting protection to foreigners. These changes will make it impossible for people crossing the border irregularly to be able to claim asylum in Poland. On 20 August, Poland’s Ministry of Interior issued an order to close its borders to persons entering the country “irregularly” and obliging them to immediately leave the territory of Poland until further notice.

Under EU and international refugee law, Poland is obliged to ensure individual assessment of all asylum claims. Amnesty International calls on Poland’s government to end pushbacks, repeal the amendment about the border closure, and to ensure access to territory to those seeking protection.

“Over the years, brazen violations of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers have flourished at different EU borders in a climate of impunity. The reality is that pushbacks and fences have become a fundamental tenet of many European country’s migration policies.”

Aleksandra Fertlińska, Campaigner at Amnesty International Poland

“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 territory and asylum procedures.”

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:       

Amnesty International press office on [email protected] +32 483 680 812  Or [email protected] +44 (0) 20 7413 5566