Sokolka, Poland – As foreigners strategy Poland’s border with Belarus, they routinely – as this reporter did – obtain a easy and clear textual content message on their telephones.
“The Polish border is sealed. BLR authorities instructed you lies. Return to Minsk!” the SMS reads, referring to Belarus.
The textual content additionally included a warning to not take any “capsules” from Belarusian troopers, a reference to unverified experiences that Belarusian border guards had given folks tablets which can embrace methadone with a purpose to “survive” the damaging crossing to the opposite aspect.
The message has been despatched to the 1000’s of refugees and migrants who’ve tried to breach the frontier and enter Poland from Belarus in current weeks, folks that rights teams say are getting used as instruments in a months-long dispute between the West and Russia-allied Minsk.
The disaster deepened this week as a whole lot extra headed to the border in scenes some observers say are akin to these from the early levels of the 2015 European refugee disaster.
Poland has responded by strengthening its border to repel the rising numbers arriving from Belarus, with Warsaw and its allies accusing the administration of President Alexander Lukashenko – and Russian chief Vladimir Putin – of encouraging folks to make the perilous journey in the direction of Central Europe.
In keeping with them, Minsk is appearing in revenge, making an attempt to destabilise Europe in return for Western sanctions on Belarus after final 12 months’s disputed election that handed Lukashenko a sixth time period – and the next crackdown on dissent.
The escalating dispute has drawn in leaders from throughout the EU, NATO and the US.
‘Troublesome state of affairs on the border’
In September, Poland launched a state of emergency within the zone bordering Belarus.
Journalists and assist employees are prevented from accessing the realm, which is 3km (about 2 miles) from Belarus and covers about 200 sleepy cities and villages. Solely those that can show they’re native residents can cross one of many many roadblocks arrange.
At a foggy stretch of street close to Poland’s Kuznica border crossing with Belarus, a gaggle of Polish border guards in fluorescent vests cease to test every automobile that passes in both route.
“There’s a tough state of affairs on the border,” says one guard. “It is advisable flip round.”
He shakes his head to underline the purpose – nobody can proceed to the border space the place 1000’s are gathered, hoping to hunt asylum on European Union territory.
At one other checkpoint additional down the border, guards cease one other automobile and search the boot earlier than turning the driving force again.
Temperatures are icy within the quiet border city of Sokolka.
Police automobiles and armed forces vans trundle alongside streets lined with Polish flags to have fun Polish Nationwide Independence Day on November 11.
A 15-minute drive away, a humanitarian disaster is unfolding on the razor-wire fences of the Polish-Belarusian border because the crowds, together with households with younger kids, are trapped within the geopolitical tug of conflict on the EU’s border.
This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russia – Belarus’s essential ally – to intervene whereas European Fee President Ursula von der Leyen raised the disaster in a gathering with US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC.
“We’ve to guard our democracies from this sort of cynical geopolitical energy play,” she instructed reporters on the White Home.
European Council President Charles Michel recommended on Wednesday for the primary time that the EU might legally fund a border barrier, breaking with a longstanding custom of refusals on the a part of EU officers to offer any form of funding for border partitions.
In the meantime, as political tensions simmer with no signal of decision, refugees face the awful prospect of one other night time out within the chilly, risking starvation and hypothermia.
Crystal van Leuwen, a medical emergency supervisor for Poland/Belarus/Lithuania programme of Docs With out Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), which has groups on all sides of the border, instructed Al Jazeera that the group has been unable to entry the restricted zone in Poland regardless of repeated requests.
Some folks MSF has handled have reported excessive violence by the hands of EU border guards, stated van Leuwen.
“Individuals have described, in their very own phrases, as being hit with the butt of a gun and kicked within the ribs,” she stated.
“One particular person described that they’d been electrocuted within the neck, with bodily accidents which appeared like what a Taser would depart. We’ve additionally handled folks with extreme dehydration and hypothermia, and important psychological sicknesses together with post-traumatic stress dysfunction, in addition to individuals who have tried suicide because of not realizing how to deal with the state of affairs they’ve discovered themselves in.”
On the time of publishing, EU officers had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for touch upon these claims.
Van Leuwen stated the present narrative surrounding the so-called weaponisation of individuals on the transfer distracted from severe medical points on the bottom.
“These are folks, these are people and in search of asylum shouldn’t be against the law. They’ve a proper to due course of and to be handled with dignity and respect.”
Van Leuwen additionally famous that opposite to experiences suggesting that it was primarily younger, single males on the border, their groups had met folks of all ages, together with households, pregnant ladies and youngsters.