While praising Poland for providing generous support to Ukrainian refugees, Felipe González Morales, a UN expert on the human rights of migrants, has criticized Polish authorities for disrespecting the rights of people stranded at the border with Belarus.
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Last Thursday, Felipe González Morales, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, announced his preliminary findings following his visit to Poland and Belarus.

While in comparison to winter the situation at the Poland-Belarus border seems to have calmed down, González Morales said, some migrants remain stranded in the forests and are subject to violent "pushbacks" on both sides.

He emphasized that the Belarusian side has not presented any convincing arguments to contradict the claim that the situation at the border is largely the result of deliberate actions by the Belarusian authorities. Since last year, Brussels recognizes the migrant crisis - generated by Alexander Lukashenko's regime - as a form of hybrid attack on the EU.

- The situation of migrants at the border reflects the geopolitical crisis in the region. Migrants should not be used or sacrificed- said the UN envoy.

He stressed that on the Polish side, children or pregnant women are detained in closed migrant facilities.

- I have asked the Polish authorities to use detention centers as means of last resort- González Morales said.

While putting migrants in temporary detention centers falls within the scope of international law principles, in the case of children, pregnant women, and other vulnerable groups it is not the case.

- I urge relevant authorities to immediately release unaccompanied children, children with their families, pregnant women and individuals with mental conditions into open facilities- Mr. Felipe González Morales said.

Poland has "legalized" pushbacks

In the wake of the border crisis, last year, Poland changed its border protection regulations. Although the European Commission signaled that the changes were incompatible with EU and international law, due in part to the war in Ukraine, the topic has become largely marginalized.

However, last Thursday, González Morales called on the Polish government to roll back the legal framework allowing for pushbacks. He explained that the regulations result in sanctioning the controversial practice of pushing migrants across the border without considering their right to have their asylum applications processed. 

The amended regulations allow the Polish Border Guard to immediately push back migrants who are apprehended while trying to cross the Polish border outside official crossings.

In addition, the 2021 legal changes restricted the ability of those apprehended in the border zone to apply for asylum. A return order has immediate effect, and while it can be appealed, an appeal has no suspensive effect. 

– We received information indicating that migrants do not have access to legal aid in this process– said the UN expert. 

Deaths at the border

In practice, migrants who are detected while crossing the border outside official points are taken to the Border Guard posts, and the officers – the UN envoy pointed out – can issue a return order that is immediately executable.

– Most migrants are provided with a "survival package" containing food, water and a thermic blanket and pushed back to the Belarusian side of the border. I learned from the Polish Border Guards that these returns are conducted at the most convenient moment to avoid detection by Belarusian Border Guards, regardless of the time and weather conditions. Sometimes returns are conducted during the night. – Mr. González Morales said. 

And although many people have been repeatedly pushed back and forth across the border, only the first expulsion is recorded and carried out in accordance with official procedures. 

Both the Polish and Belarusian authorities officially deny using violence during the repeated pushbacks, but the UN envoy argued that he had gathered corroborating testimony and evidence. 

He stressed that conditions at the border violate the rights of migrants which are granted by international conventions. 

– The Belarusian authorities have documented 4 death cases, while the Polish authorities have investigated 10 deaths. Each case requires an independent, transparent and thorough investigation.

In the meantime, the total number of deaths as recognized by the authorities of both countries does not correspond to the information I gathered. According to public sources, at least 19 migrants died in the forest in 2021 and many remain missing- González Morales said.

At the beginning of July, Poland abolished a special restricted-access zone along the border with Belarus. In practice, it banned media and humanitarian organizations from entering the area. Mr. González Morales stressed the special role of the media, whose freedom to report on the situation at the border helps monitor whether migrants' rights are respected.

-I fear the establishment of the fence will not deter people from trying to cross but simply increase the level of danger and potentially exacerbate the humanitarian situation of migrants stranded between the two borders–the UN expert argued.

Access to legal abortion for rape victims

The UN expert spoke highly of Poland's reception of Ukrainian refugees, but at the same time called for equal treatment for non-Ukrainian citizens fleeing the war. He expressed his concern about the "very limited access to legal abortion for refugee women who have been raped".

– Understanding that the abortion law is applicable to all women in Poland, in the current context of the armed conflict in Ukraine, refugee women, particularly refugee victims of rape, may be particularly affected by the limitations in law and in practice. I urge Poland to address obstacles faced by refugee women to legal abortion– said Mr. González Morales.


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    One group is considered refugees and the other migrants. This explains a different treatment.
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