UN Refugee Agency Pressures Poland to Help Illegal Immigrants on Belarus Border

By Reuters
August 24, 2021 Updated: August 24, 2021

WARSAW, Poland—The UN refugee agency and rights groups urged Poland on Tuesday to offer medical and legal support and shelter to illegal immigrants camping on the border with Belarus, a day after the Polish government said it would build a fence to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing.

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 Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is waging “hybrid warfare” with illegal immigrants to exert pressure on the bloc.

“While we acknowledge the challenges posed by recent arrivals to Poland, we call on the Polish authorities to provide access to territory, immediate medical assistance, legal advice, and psychosocial support to these people,” said Christine Goyer, the UNHCR’s representative in Poland.

On Monday, Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said that a new 2.5-metre-(8.2-foot)-high solid fence would be built on the border with Belarus.

“States have the legitimate right to manage their borders in accordance with international law, however, they must also respect human rights, including the right to seek asylum,” the UNHCR said in a statement.

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights on Tuesday also said it has requested the European Court of Human Rights take temporary measures to ensure Poland takes care of the illegal immigrants’ safety, offering them food, water, and shelter at a refugee centre.

The court did not respond to a request from Reuters asking if it would implement the measures.

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.

By Joanna Plucinska