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On Sunday, January 8, the official Twitter account of the Polish Border Guard posted the following message: "Scandalous behavior of activists supported by one of the tv stations. They refused to disclose the location of illegal immigrants". Doubling down on this sentiment, the following day border authorities issued a report entitled: "Difficult and unnecessarily prolonged rescue operation".
As a matter of fact, said activists shared the geographic coordinates with a crisis center, and eventually, according to the humanitarian aid organization Border Group, "they themselves brought authorities to the site". Newly published recordings show that humanitarian aid workers shared their location with the crisis center several times. The fact was also confirmed by Piotr Chojnowski, spokesman for the Regional Chief of the State Fire Service.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Sharing of false or misleading information by the Polish border authorities is a rather common practice.
Below, we have listed the most striking acts of misconduct or deliberate disinformation committed by the Polish Border Guard since the beginning of the humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border:
* "The migrants are on Belarusian territory"
August 2021. When a group of Afghan refugees camped out near the village of Usnarz Górny is held in gridlock by officers from both sides of the border, the Polish Border Guard claims that "the migrants are on Belarusian territory". The available evidence, however, suggests the contrary. Among other things, a digital investigation conducted by Amnesty International proves that Poland broke the law by pushing the migrants back to Belarus. As late as August 18, many members of the group were still on the Polish side of the border. A day later, when armed Polish border authorities surrounded the camp, the migrants found themselves back on the Belarusian side.
- Our analysis showed clearly that their location shifted from the Polish territory to Belarusian territory overnight. This strongly suggests that they were victims of unlawful pushbacks- said Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International's European Institutions Office.
* "Mostly men in their prime"
Even when photographs taken from afar by the editor-in-chief of Wyborcza’s branch in Białystok clearly showed that the group of refugees near Usnarz included multiple women and even a 15-year-old girl, Deputy Minister of the Interior Maciej Wąsik argued that "these are mostly strong, young men of draft age, and there’s nothing that would indicate that they are fleeing a conflict-torn country". He also added that the refugees are "well-dressed and, as you can see, have everything they need".
* "They don't want to stay in Poland"
The Border Guard explains most pushbacks by claiming that "the foreigners were not interested in applying for international protection in Poland". This is a plain lie and the deportation of "children from Michałów" is perhaps the most glaring example of that.
On September 27, 2021, a group of Turkish and Iraqi Kurds with young children located near Michałów begged the guards not to be pushed back again to the forest. They refused to enter the border outpost, and laid on the ground in despair. The authorities did not verify anyone’s identity or talk to them. The foreigners did not speak English (they knew only basic words), and the border guards did not bother to call an interpreter. Eventually, they were forcibly deported and "turned back to the state border". In a communiqué issued on October 1, the Polish Border Guard claimed: "Border Guard officers informed the foreigners about the possibility of applying for international protection, but the children's parents refused to submit such an application in Poland. The individuals were only interested in applying for asylum in Germany".
Meanwhile, footage from the site shows one of the men, Suat from Turkey, shouting to those standing behind the fence and hoping that someone will understand him. We have sent the video to two Kurds from Turkey who have translated the message as: "We want to stay here and become Polish citizens, but they don't let us do so".
* "After staying at the hospital, foreigners are always taken to a migration facility"
Among others, Katarzyna Zdanowicz, spokeswoman for the regional unit of the Border Guard in Podlasie, insisted on this thesis. The fact is, migrants are very often taken to the border and pushed back to Belarus immediately after they stay in the emergency department, frequently in serious condition. This was the case with a group of Syrian nationals rescued on October 23, 2021, near the village of Lipiny by Medics on the Border, activists, local residents, and lawyers. "They were all hypothermic, hungry and dehydrated. They had wet clothes. One of them was a man with hypothermia and impaired consciousness. His condition was made worse by a chest injury, the cause of which we were unable to determine (...). Our intervention was further impeded by hail. We transported the patient to the hospital" – we read in a report provided by the Medics on the Border. On Sunday morning, November 24, four of the five Syrians were back in Belarus.
* According to Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska, "attorneys and lawyers have uninterrupted contact with detained foreigners. Even if they do not have their own devices, they are provided with a phone and access to the Internet". The lawyers themselves deny this. Legal counsel Patryk Radzimierski, representing a Syrian family of eight with six children found in October in Hajnówka, told how he tried to find out from Border Guard officers where they were taking them: "All we got was silence on the part of the uniformed officers. The guards don't introduce themselves, don't identify themselves, and don't answer any questions. They just say 'please step aside' and load people into the bus. There are huge problems in finding out what exactly is happening to them. All I can do is wait for the Border Guard to respond to my emails".
* "Activists hinder border authorities from doing their job"
There are multiple examples of unfounded accusations against activists bringing aid to the people trapped at the border. On April 13, 2022, media reported that a 16-year-old Yemeni boy was beaten by Belarusian forces and was lying just across the border on the Belarusian side. Meanwhile, the Polish Border Guard accused Border Group activists of spreading "unverified and unconfirmed information". The case of doctor Paulina Bownik show just how serious the authorities were in going after the activists. In June 2022, the Polish Border Guard suggested on Twitter that "the activist doctor left a 12-year-old child unattended in the forest". "We hand over all those in need of medical help to doctors, but only the responsible ones".
On June 20, Paulina Bownik provided assistance to a girl with frostbitten fingers (the frostbite dated back to January, because this is how long the child had been at the border). She had to make a difficult decision, but she did not notify the authorities because "in Podlasie, the authorities don’t hesitate to push back even disabled children. Even two-year-olds. Even infants. Even pregnant women. I imagined a pretty 12-year-old girl from Mali surrounded by a dozen Belarusian soldiers, and decided to trust my gut. It told me that in this group people cared for each other. I didn't get the impression anyone was violet" – she explained.
* "Polish authorities respond to every call for help and provide assistance"
The younger brother of Mohammad Yasem, a 31-year-old Syrian man who died in November 2022 near Czeremcha, says otherwise. They crossed the border together, then Mohammad collapsed in the woods. His brother set off to bring help. He was stopped by border guard officers, but they ignored his pleas for help for his dying brother, even though he showed his passport. He was pushed back to Belarus. The Prosecutor's Office for the Białystok-South district is investigating the case.
* "They are safe to stay in Belarus"
At a press briefing on September 27, 2021, Poland’s Minister of the Interior Mariusz Kamiński said that "the people who are trying to force their way across our border are in no way at risk in Belarus, they are there completely legally, they are actually invited there by the Lukashenko regime". Meanwhile, examples of criminal and violent acts committed by Belarusian authorities against migrants abound. A video recorded by Polish border guards in May 2022 proves that. A group of Cubans, including women and children, was brutally dragged across the ground by Belarusian authorities, and then thrown against the barbed wire. The people can be seen bleeding, screaming, begging for help.
* "The border is sealed tight"
This is the mantra repeated by the Border Guard and the Ministry of the Interior. Minister Mariusz Kamiński first stated that at a press conference in early September 2021, claiming that: "the efficiency of our Border Guard is enormous, practically one hundred percent". He was echoed by Border Guard Commander Tomasz Praga, who claimed that the border is not only physically protected, but also "heavily packed with electronic and optoelectronic equipment", and that the introduction of a state of emergency in the region allows human traffickers to be caught more quickly. At the same time, volunteers had their hands full saving the lives of nine exhausted Congolese citizens and one Cameroonian man who managed to make it outside the state of emergency zone.
Since then, nothing has changed: the authorities boast of having the "best protected border in Europe" (a Tweet by Stanislaw Żaryn, deputy minister spokesman for intelligence services, from October 1, 2022: "Poland has finished building a protective barrier on the border with Belarus. Illegal entry into Poland is now impossible"). Volunteers and activists, on the other hand, still venture out into the woods every day to provide humanitarian aid to exhausted people hiding from the Border Guard.
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