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Polish police and military stand next to barbed wire fence on border.

Polish authorities say they have stopped hundreds of asylum seekers from illegally entering the country from Belarus.

Key points:

  • The EU has accused Belarus of orchestrating the crisis as revenge for Western sanctions
  • Polish authorities say there are 3,000 to 4,000 asylum seekers near their border with Belarus
  • Charities say the asylum seekers face freezing conditions and a lack of food and medical attention

Warsaw has accused Belarus of trying to spark a major confrontation at the border, where thousands of people have been gathering.

Video footage from Belarusian media has shown people using branches and long wooden poles to try to get past a border fence as police helicopters circled overhead.

A spokesperson for Poland’s security forces Stanislaw Zaryn said the crossing attempt was “coordinated” by asylum seekers he said were “controlled” by Belarus forces.

The European Union has accused Minsk of encouraging migrants from the Middle East and Africa to cross into the EU via Belarus, in retaliation for Western sanctions on President Alexander Lukashenko’s government over human rights abuses.

Poland said seven migrants had been found dead on its side of the border, with reports of more deaths in Belarus.(BelTA via AP: Leonid Scheglov)

Thousands of soldiers deployed as border closed

Current situation on the Polish-Belarusian border. We are dealing with organised destruction of border fortifications. There are also direct attacks on Polish Border Guards officers, police and soldiers. https://t.co/XS3Ec6dej7

— Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland (@PremierRP_en) November 8, 2021

Polish officials said there were currently 3,000 to 4,000 migrants near the border, and more than 10,000 others across Belarus ready to try to cross into Poland.

“We expect that in the coming hours attacks on our border will be renewed by groups of several hundred people,” Pawel Soloch, the head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, told reporters.

Warsaw said it had deployed 12,000 soldiers, border guards and police to the border.

The Polish Border Guard also announced the border at Kuznica, near where migrants tried to force their way through, would be closed.

“We have three border crossings with Belarus,” Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik told private broadcaster Polsat News.

“The closure of one of them can … be treated as a kind of economic sanction.”

 

Polish police and military stand next to barbed wire fence on border. Polish police and military stand next to barbed wire fence on border.

Thousands of Polish soldiers have been sent to the border with Belarus. (BelTA via AP: Leonid Scheglov)

Belarus decries ‘inhumane attitude’ as charities raise humanitarian concerns

Mr Lukashenko’s government has repeatedly denied manufacturing the migrant crisis, blaming the West for the crossings and poor treatment of migrants.

Alexander Lukashenko sits at a desk with microphones. Behind him is the Belarusian flag.

Alexander Lukashenko sits at a desk with microphones. Behind him is the Belarusian flag.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly denied his government is orchestrating the migrant crisis. (Sergei Shelega/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

The Belarus State Border Committee confirmed many asylum seekers were moving towards the Polish border, but said Warsaw was taking an “inhumane attitude”.

Committee spokesperson Anton Bychkovsky said the migrants were seeking to “exercise their right to apply for refugee status in the EU”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended Minsk’s handling of the migrant issue, saying Belarus was taking all necessary measures to act legally.

Women in scarves and jackets sit around a fire.

Women in scarves and jackets sit around a fire.

Some humanitarian groups have accused Poland of violating the international right to asylum by pushing migrants back into Belarus.(BelTA via Reuters: Leonid Scheglov)

Charities have said the asylum seekers are facing freezing weather conditions and a lack of food and medical attention.

Poland said seven migrants had been found dead on its side of the border, with reports of more deaths in Belarus.

Some humanitarian groups have accused Poland’s ruling nationalists of violating the international right to asylum by pushing migrants back into Belarus instead of accepting their applications for protection.

But Poland has maintained its actions are legal, with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki taking to Facebook to declare the border is “not just a line on a map”.

“The border is sacred — Polish blood has been spilled for it,” Mr Morawiecki wrote.

A man in a jacket carries a child on his back A man in a jacket carries a child on his back

Migrants gather near a barbed wire fence in an attempt to cross the border with Poland.(BelTA via Reuters: Leonid Scheglov)

EU nations call for tougher sanctions

The European Union, the United States and Britain imposed sanctions on Belarus after Mr Lukashenko unleashed a violent crackdown on mass protests following a disputed election last year.

The Polish government has called for tougher EU sanctions against Minsk, while the Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have issued similar calls.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was calling for member states to approve extended sanctions against the Belarusian authorities.

In recent months, both Poland and Lithuania have seen thousands of migrants trying to cross into the European Union.

Ms Von der Leyden said two top EU officials would travel to the main countries of origin for the migrants to “ensure that they act to prevent their own nationals from falling into the trap set by the Belarusian authorities”.

The EU also wants to target airlines from third countries that help transport the asylum seekers from the Middle East to Belarus.

The US State Department said it was concerned by disturbing images and reports from the Polish border, and called on the Belarusian government to immediately halt its campaign of orchestrating and coercing irregular migration flows across its borders.

A crowd of migrants stands next to a barbed wire fence

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