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For days, a group of Afghan refugees has been stranded in a camp in Usnarz Górny- a village on the Polish-Belarusian border. They want to enter Poland and apply for asylum, but the border guards refuse to let them through. Their situation is increasingly dramatic. On one side of the border, there are Belarusian soldiers. Polish border guards, the Army, and the police are on the other. The camp itself is blocked by military vehicles.
Even humanitarian aid organizations are not allowed to hand over basic supplies such as medicine, food, and water. Medical aid is also not allowed, even though some of the refugees are suffering health problems. Members of the Ocalenie Foundation who are on the ground are trying to communicate with the refugees via megaphones. They report that their voices are being drowned out by the engine sounds of military vehicles.
What’s more, the Minister of National Defense, Mariusz Błaszczak, announced on Monday that Poland will build a new, 2,5 meters high border wall with Belarus.
Border guards stop MP trying to deliver food to stranded refugees
Politicians willing to help refugees apply for asylum and international aid arrive in Usnarz Górny every single day. They, too, are being turned away. On Monday, Civic Coalition MP from Poznań, Franciszek Sterczewski, made his way to the border to support the activists who want to help the refugees. The situation there is dramatic, he says.
- The camp has already run out of water. These people have to drink water from a stream. They have nowhere to go and we cannot reach them. The Polish authorities are even preventing us from delivering aid- Sterczewski told Wyborcza.
The MP says that four of the stranded foreigners are ill and require medical care. - Does someone really have to die of hunger and exhaustion for the Polish state to act? What needs to happen for our government to start respecting international treaties under the Geneva Convention that give these people the right to seek asylum if they are fleeing war. These people deserve help and support- Sterczewski said.
On Tuesday evening, the opposition MP tried to bring the refugees some basic supplies, but was stopped by the Polish Border Guard. The guards were chasing him around for over ten minutes and refused to let him through. They formed a barrier, pushing Sterczewski aside. At one point, the MP fell to the ground. A video of the incident appeared on social media.
Sterczewski: the refugees are on the Polish side of the border
As reported by the MP, there are 32 people in the border camp. The Polish border guards, however, mentioned some 24 people, emphasizing that the Afghan refugees are on the Belarusian side of the border. "There are no groups of illegal immigrants on the Polish side" - they assure in a tweet.
Sterczewski, in turn, is certain that the refugees are located on the Polish side of the border.
- The camp is set up on a meadow that is enclosed on one side by a forest. Belarusian troops are standing there, marking the border of the Belarusian state. The refugee camp is located at the same place as the Polish troops, so if we say that the camp is across the border, we’d have to say that the Polish authorities have crossed it illegally as well. The border guards don’t have the right to refuse to help these people- the Civic Coalition MP points out. - It is only in Usnarz Górny, at the border, that one can see how the Polish state fails to function properly. These people must not be denied their human rights, and Poland is only giving them a cold shoulder.
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.
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