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Poland: 17 Afghans at the border violently pushed back to Belarus

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Amnesty
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Poland: 17 Afghans at the border violently pushed back to Belarus

Amnesty International is deeply concerned about reports that 17 out of the 32 Afghans stuck on the Poland-Belarus border since August 2021 have been forcibly pushed back to Belarus after attempting to cross the barbed wire fence towards Poland. Polish authorities admit that “direct coercion measures” have been used against people from the group who tried to cross the fence.

Amnesty International has verified a video shared by the Belarusian authorities, which shows people crossing the border in the Usnarz Górny area. According to the Polish organization Fundacja Ocalenie, a group of 17 people, including at least one minor, were violently apprehended after crossing the fence towards Poland today. They were then detained in a border guard station in Poland and subsequently pushed back to Belarus by the Polish authorities. An Amnesty International digital investigation had already shown that the same group had been subjected to a suspected forced return in August.

"This group of Afghan people has been held in abysmal conditions at the Polish-Belarus border for two months now. Today’s violence and new pushback to Belarus is a slap in the face of international law and the human right to seek asylum. The move blatantly disregards a European Court of Human Rights ruling instructing Polish authorities to assist the group and banning the authorities from returning the group to Belarus, so long as they are in Poland." Nils Muižnieks, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe Regional Office

On 25 August, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Poland to provide this group of 32 Afghans with “food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and, if possible, temporary shelter”. On 27 September, the Court extended the order “until further notice” and also ordered that as long as the group were on Polish territory, they should not be returned to Belarus.

Despite that, the group was returned to Belarus under a Polish ministerial decree of August 2020 which establishes that, except for people falling under certain categories, those intercepted in the border area must leave Poland and be “returned to the state border line”. The Polish border has been under a state of emergency since 2 September, and therefore out of bounds for journalists, MPs and activists.

“The Polish government has shown immense cruelty in attempting to legitimize illegal pushbacks of people seeking asylum at their border. EU and international law is crystal clear on this, it is unlawful to summarily return people who cross a border irregularly without an assessment of their circumstances.,” said Nils Muižnieks.

Amnesty International calls on Poland’s government to end pushbacks, repeal the amendment about the border closure, and to ensure those seeking protection can safely access its territory.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:    

Alison Abrahams on alison.abrahams@amnesty.org +32 483 680 812 Or press@amnesty.org +44 20 7413 5566

BACKGROUND

Urgent Action: Protect Afghans stranded at Polish border, 2 September 2021,

Poland: Digital investigation proves Poland violated refugees’ rights, 30 September 2021,

On 14 October, the Polish Parliament adopted an amendment on the law of foreigners and the law on international protection. Under the amendments, a person who enters or attempts to enter the country “in breach of the law”, must leave Polish territory and is banned from entering the country for 6 months to 3 years. Applicants appealing the decision cannot stay in Poland pending a ruling.

Under the amendment, asylum applications submitted by a person detained for irregular entry, can be suspended/not examined. The only exception is a foreigner who entered directly from a country where their life would be at risk. This does not apply to the group of Afghans who travelled via Belarus.

The amendments also criminalize any damage of the border protection infrastructure, an act now punishable with a prison sentence between 6 months and 5 years. Both UNHCR and OSCE raised early concerns about the legislative proposal.

On 14 October, the Parliament also adopted a law that provides for enhanced border protection and envisages a construction of a fence (at a reported cost of US$400 million). The border protection will be built by the Border Guards and the protection of the border will be ensured by multiple state authorities, including the Minister of Defence, Chief of the office of the General Prosecutor, chiefs of regional authorities (Wojewoda Podlaski, Wojewoda Lubelski), as well as the head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and others.

At least five people have died at the border since September, with the most recent death, that of a 24-year old Syrian man, being reported by the Polish authorities on 14 October.