WARSAW—Poland will build a fence along its border with Belarus, the defense minister said on Monday, to halt a flow of illegal immigrants the European Union says is being driven by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in retaliation for EU sanctions.
Poland and fellow EU states Lithuania and Latvia have reported sharp increases in illegal immigrants from countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan trying to cross their borders. The EU says Lukashenko is waging “hybrid warfare” with immigrants to exert pressure on the bloc.
“A new 2.5-metre-[8.2-foot]-high solid fence will be built on the border with Belarus,” Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak wrote on Twitter. “More soldiers will [also] be involved in helping the Border Guard.”
Poland’s government has come under sharp criticism from human rights advocates over the plight of a group of illegal immigrants trapped for two weeks in the open between Polish and Belarusian border guards near the village of Usnarz Gorny.
Poland says allowing the immigrants to enter Polish territory would encourage further illegal immigration and would also play into Lukashenko’s hands. “These are not refugees, they are economic migrants brought in by the Belarusian government,” Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told reporters.
But some lawyers and NGOs accuse Warsaw of treating the stranded immigrants inhumanely by blocking their entry.
The Polish Human Rights Ombudsman said the Border Guard had violated the Geneva Convention by not accepting verbal declarations from some of the illegal immigrants that they wanted to apply for international protection in Poland.
The Polish Border Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lithuania said on Monday it would complete a 508-kilometer (315-mile) fence along its border with Belarus by September next year.
Lukashenko has said he will no longer hold back illegal immigrants due to EU sanctions imposed after a disputed presidential election last year and subsequent crackdown on protesters and dissidents.
By Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz