Poland Plans A State Of Emergency On Belarus Border Amidst Refugee Crisis

Poland’s government plans to impose emergency laws to stem the flow of migrants illegally crossing from the Belarus border, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated last Tuesday. Meanwhile, 32 refugees remain stranded between the Polish and Belarusian border with little to no shelter and diminishing food supplies.

This is the first time the measure will have been used in Poland since the 1981 declaration of martial law under the communist government. Previous governments have avoided using this law during natural disasters and even the coronavirus pandemic. If approved by the current government, the state of emergency would last around 30 days, and span across 183 towns lying within roughly 3 kilometers of the border. 

European Union countries, including Latvia and Lithuania have accused Belarus of facilitating this increased migrant crossing of Iraqi and Afghani refugees into its border states. This was allegedly an effort to destabilize these countries in retaliation for recent sanctions imposed by Brussels in June. There is almost no doubt that Belarusian officials were involved in this scheme. Recent videos have emerged showing Belarusian police and soldiers directing refugees, ushered out of several vans, towards the border.

The refugees, including women and children, are unable to leave the muddy patch of ground between the two countries and have been refused asylum by Poland. They are also unable to return to Belarus. Polish border guards currently stand meters away from the refugees, while a barbed wire border fence is under construction along the border. According to the Ocalenie Foundation, a group which has been monitoring the situation for the past week, one of the stranded refugees, a 53-year-old woman, is ill and desperately needs medical attention. Spokeswoman for the organization, Mariana Wartecka, said border guards denied her access to health professionals. “[I]t’s a humanitarian crisis right now,” she said. “They don’t have proper shelter… access to clean water. They are drinking water from a stream… that is really dirty.”

Last week the European court of Human Rights ordered Poland and Latvia to provide “food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and, if possible, temporary shelter” for the refugees, but noted they did not need to take them into their countries. In response to this ruling, the Polish right-wing government stated that it had repeatedly offered to provide food, shelter and aid to the refugees through the Belarussian border but were unable to. Agnieszka Kubal, a UCL migration scholar, doubt the offer’s integrity. She observed that border agents “are standing literally meters from these people in a tight cordon and… authorities are sending a truck to Belarus to reach those people from the other side…. It’s so ridiculous…”

As the Taliban establish their fundamentalist government in Afghanistan, it is an inevitability that more migrants will attempt to cross European borders in order to gain asylum. Both Latvia and Poland should immediately provide aid to these refugees and, if they are unable to grant them asylum into their countries, provide safe passage to a country that will accept them. This is their moral obligation at the very least.

Additionally, Belarus should immediately desist from manipulating these vulnerable groups fleeing war. The EU must further learn from its failures during the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis to handle the looming crisis correctly. This new refugee crisis is only beginning. Therefore, distinct and firm trans-European policy based on moral principles must be quickly outlined before the situation gets worse.