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The Polish government’s declaration of a “state of emergency” at the border with Belarus presents serious risks for asylum seekers trying to reach Poland and threatens to exacerbate the already dire situation faced by 32 Afghans including four women, 27 men and a 15-year-old girl, who have been held there without adequate food and clean water for over three weeks, after being pushed back from Poland, Amnesty International said.
The state of emergency will restrict the already limited access and work of journalists reporting on the issue as it bans the use of recording equipment in the area. It will also hinder the work of lawyers assisting the asylum seekers, as well as NGOs and activists carrying out vital human rights monitoring.
“A state of emergency allows a state to restrict certain human rights in extreme circumstances where there is a “threat to the life of the nation”. No such threat exists in Poland where the authorities are attempting to cynically exploit this power to target asylum seekers and those who support them,”Nils Muižnieks Director for Europe at Amnesty International
Finally, on 1 September, the UNHCR and Belarusian Red Cross with the support of Polish Red Cross brought humanitarian help to the group of Afghan asylum seekers held at the border.
“While UNHCR and Red Cross have provided basic support, we remind the Polish authorities to fully comply with last week’s European Court of Human Rights order to provide those stuck at the border with food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and shelter. It must also ensure individual assessment of all asylum claims, and enable organizations, lawyers and other institutions to gain unhindered access to the group,” Nils Muižnieks said.
There are reports that Belarusian border guards are helping people to cross over into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. On 6 July, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced that he would not stop people crossing the border into those countries. However, this must not be used as an excuse for unlawful pushbacks of asylum seekers and denial of access to the asylum procedure.
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, to ensure access to the territory for those seeking protection, and to immediately provide refugees held at the border with Belarus with essential humanitarian assistance.
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On 24 August an Amnesty International delegation visited Usnarz Górny, where the group had 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.
Since the group arrived at the border 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.
On 25 August, soldiers of Poland’s army started building a fence on the border with Belarus. On 31 August, the Polish government requested the President of Poland to declare a state of emergency for 30 days in the regions bordering Belarus, on the grounds of risks posed by the “3,000 attempted border crossings in August”. The declaration of the state of emergency would include a ban on assemblies, protests, mass events, and cultural events, among others.