Follow the big issues that shape Polish politics and society by signing up to our weekly newsletter "News from Poland: Democracy at Stake". It allows you to stay up to speed on developments concerning the ongoing assault on democratic institutions, rule of law, and human rights in Poland.
A group of 32 asylum seekers from the Middle East remains stranded on the Polish-Belarusian border near the village of Usnarz Górny for the third consecutive week. As reported by the Ocalenie Foundation, the Afghan nationals are camped there in inhumane conditions.
The situation of the exhausted, cold, sick, and hungry refugees is rapidly deteriorating. They require immediate medical attention. An ambulance with a doctor and paramedic is waiting for permission to enter the encampment but the authorities refuse to let anyone through, including medical aid. Human rights activists who have been present at the site for days, in turn, are trying to block the soldiers. The atmosphere is growing tense.
Protesting the government’s migration policy
On Sunday (August 29), a group of activists appeared in the village of Szymaki, some 15 km away from Usnarz Górny. In an act of civil protest, they cut through two coils of the barbed wire fence set up on the Polish-Belarusian border. The barrier is still under construction and it is supposed to be modeled after the one on the Hungarian-Serbian border.
The action was swift. Shortly after 5:00 p.m., the activists ran into the border strip, reached the fence, cut the wires with special scissors, and stretched them with their hands in protective gloves, tearing apart a fragment of the fence. The Border Guard falsely claims that the activists also attached the fence to the car.
The officers spotted the activists and began shouting: "Stop, go away!".
The entire group was first detained by the Border Guard and then taken over by the police. They were identified, and evidence is being secured. The police are investigating whether the activists broke the law. Most of the activists were packed into police cars and taken to the police station of the Sokółka district police station. Two vans which the group drove from Warsaw have been taken away on lorries.
- Actions are underway to bring charges against these people- said Lt. Anna Michalska, spokeswoman for the Border Guard, on Sunday evening.
Although the activists claim that they were successful in cutting through two coils of the barbed wire, there is no clear evidence of that on the videos which have already been posted online. Rafał Gulko, a lawyer from Białystok, who is defending all thirteen activists, emphasized this point. He was at the police station in Sokółka on Sunday evening and saw the detainees.
- The video does not show that the wire was cut, but only stretched – Mr Gulko points out.
According to the police, the activists destroyed about 15 meters of netting.
- The value of the destroyed property indicates that we are dealing with a crime - says Tomasz Krupa, spokesman for the Podlasie district police department. He also stressed that charges have not yet been brought against anyone.
- We can only expect charges of property destruction, not against all 13 people, but at most 4-5 - believes attorney Gulko.
We should also expect some preventive measures against the activists, including motions for police supervision.
Akcja obywatelskiego sprzeciwu polegała na zniszczeniu fragmentu 'płotu Błaszczaka'. 29 sierpnia w pobliżu miejscowości Szymaki na polsko-białoruskiej granicy pojawiła się 13-osobowa grupa aktywistów Fot. Agnieszka Sadowska / Agencja Gazeta
Activists: We owe these people our solidarity
Before being taken to the police station, Bartosz Kramek, one of the activists, read out a manifesto of the civil protest action in Szymaki.
- Let us defend the border from Lukashenko and Putin, not from their victims- he urged. He also said that "government propaganda dehumanizes refugees, and a Poland surrounded by barbed wire is not a country he can identify with".
He emphasized that borders must be protected with modern surveillance systems, specialized sensors, drones, and patrols. The barbed wire must be removed - at both the symbolic and material levels.
- We owe such solidarity to people who are waiting in vain for our help and shelter - both there, in Afghanistan, and here, at our borders.
The statement was signed by: Grzegorz Antoszewski, Julka Bednarek, Dominik Berlinski, Angelika Domańska, Julia Gościńska, Isia, Leokadia Jung, Anna Kulesza, Bartosz Kramek, Zuzanna Lesiak, Tomasz Mysłek, Kajetan Wróblewski, Bernard van der Esch. All of them agreed to share their personal data, saying that they act in full transparency.
Government officials condemn the activists
Mariusz Kamiński, the Minister of Interior and Administration, who commands the Border Guard, commented on the protest action in a Tweet.
He wrote: "The situation that occurred on our border is absolutely unacceptable. The perpetrators who broke the fence have been detained by the Border Guard and will face all criminal consequences of their actions. Similar acts will be met with our firm response".
His words were echoed by the Minister of National Defence, Mariusz Błaszczak, who said:"Those who destroyed the barrier are helping the hybrid attack on Poland’s and the EU’s eastern border. Especially on the eve of the Russian military exercise ZAPAD 21 such conduct threatens the security of our Homeland!".
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.
We decided to make our service available to everyone free of charge in order to provide access to high quality journalism for expats and English speakers interested in Polish affairs.
The access to information should be equal for all.
Wybierz prenumeratę, by czytać to, co Cię ciekawi
Wyborcza.pl to zawsze sprawdzone informacje, szczere wywiady, zaskakujące reportaże i porady ekspertów w sprawach, którymi żyjemy na co dzień. Do tego magazyny o książkach, historii i teksty z mediów europejskich. Zrezygnować możesz w każdej chwili.