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BORDERLINE DISORDER

Polonia
©EPA-EFE/ARTUR RESZKO   |   Polish police officers stand at the Polish-Belarusian border near Usnarz Gorny village, north-west Poland, 30 August 2021.

„This is a story from 2 days ago” – journalist Dorota Borodaj wrote on her Facebook feed on September the 1st. She spent the last days of summer holidays with her family and friends in the Białowieża Primeval Forest (a forest complex with an area of approx. 1500 km² on the Polish-Belarusian border). They were packing, they were to leave for Warsaw in a few hours. Suddenly her friend Ala runs up and says: "There are people". The woman went for a walk with another friend, across the meadow to the edge of the forest, where there are huge wooden tubes - these are megaphones. One goes inside and listens to the sounds of the forest. These people took refuge in one of the tubes. "There are three of them," said Ala. Dorota and Ala quickly packed something to eat and a blanket. After 10 minutes they were on the spot. On the way, they met a middle-aged couple who rent rooms nearby – they saw them too, brought them water, a blanket, sandwiches and beers („You know, Polish hospitality”, middle-age man said).

Let’s follow them!

„Hamid spoke the best English” – Dorota Borodaj wrote in her post. „We asked if they needed a doctor, where are they from. Afghanistan, they said. They informed which provinces they are from and for how long they have been traveling. I've recorded this – they introduced themselves and asked Poland for international protection in connection with the situation in which they find themselves. I collected powers of attorney from them, took photos to have proof that the men are in Poland and I called the Border Guard.” After a long waiting, the officers finally arrived and began checking the documents of all of the present people. Then one of the Guards nodded at the three Afghans and told them to get in the car. „I asked the guards to tell me where they were taking these three men and then, at the last minute, I exchanged phone numbers with Hamid,” Dorota Borodaj wrote. She was informed that a lawyer from the Fundacja Ocalenie (Salvation Foundation), a representative of the detained persons and a lawyer from the Association for Legal Intervention were on their way to meet the Afghan men. “'They won't make it,' I thought, and watched the Border Guard car departing,” - reads Dorota's Facebook post. “And then I jumped into the car my husband drove up, packing our things and children all this time. 'Lets follow them!' It was surreal, we rolled behind the Guards car, Ala and her friend in a car behind us, like in some lousy spy movie. I was trying to explain to my children what was happening. They mixed everything: 'This gentleman in uniform and with a rifle is escaping from the war?' Oh no, sonny, not exactly.”

How did Dorota Borodaj, a journalist from Warsaw, know what to do when one meets people who crossed the border illegally and want to apply for refugee status? For years she worked in NGOs and knows many people including those who provide legal assistance to forced migrants, so a few days before she met the three Afghan men, she wrote to a friend from the Ocalenie Foundation: "Kasia, what should be done when you meet such people?" She wanted to know hypothetically. That's how she found out what to do step by step and what to take care of.

“At the headquarters of the Border Guard in Narewka, I felt relief - the guard car turned into the gate, that is, Afghan migrants were taken to the station and not taken back to the forest near the border with Belarus, as it happened many times before this summer,” Dorota continued her Facebook post. “I handed over all the documents and information to the lawyers who joined us there, they went to the Border Guard HQ to demand a meeting with three men (they failed) and we went home.
Around 1AM the phone buzzed and I smacked it absently, thinking it was a dream. After a while, it buzzed again. It was Hamid, his SMS message was short: 'Dorota, they sent us back!'. And the next one: 'We will die. We're in the woods, please do something!'

Officers took migrants from the Border Guard headquarters in the middle of the night and after some time they dropped them off in the forest and drove away.”
When Hamid sent Dorota a pin with their location, it turned out that they had been dropped off in a strict reservation somewhere near the border with Belarus. But still in Poland. Activists operating in the area started the search for Afghans.

Around 9AM, Hamid wrote Dorota: “Big animals are here! We have to get out of this forest, it's dangerous!” They probably saw the bisons. Dorota asked them to calmly move away from them, but not to lose their phone connection. They needed to be careful, there are swamps, backwaters.

Eventually they were out of reach again. Dorota Borodaj from time to time was writing to Hamid: "Are you ok?". But there was no reply.

Six hours later, Hamid finally wrote back, “Hello dear Dorota! I'm ok! ”. And sent a pin with his location. The team searching for them was close. Dorota sent them the location of the Afghans, and after a minute they replied: "We're going there!"

After 5 PM Dorota got a message: "We have them!!"
It turned out that several other people had joined the three Afghans. The youngest was not yet 18 years old. He was in the worst condition after he had wandered in the woods for a long time, so he was taken by an ambulance. Activists called the Border Guard and followed them.

"Since finding them, I have no contact with Hamid – I do not write, because I do not want to confuse him about who is now taking care of their appropriate procedures. Procedures – not overnight transport to the wild forest and pushing with the rifle butts” - Dorota wrote.

“As I write this, I am thinking of the group detained near Jurowlany on Saturday night, several hours before our operation. There was a baby, there was a girl my daughter's age – in the photo she has tousled hair and tired eyes, there were little boys, an old lady. To this day, it is not known what happened to those people. The Border Guard cars took them in different directions. They blocked the access for the attorney. There were people but no more.

As I write this, the government is introducing a state of emergency in Poland in the border zone. This will limit, if not completely block, the possibility of legal support and crisis interventions by NGOs."
Till now Dorota Borodaj's Facebook’s post was shared by more than 830 people.

Who’s doing what?

The increased movement of refugees who illegally cross the Polish (Latvian and Lithuanian) border has lasted for the past several months, but the crisis widely reported by the media has began on August the 16th, when a group of 32 Afghans without easy access to food, water or toilets got stuck in no-man's land - between Belarus and Poland near Usnarz Górny village (a group of 41 Kurds from Iraq is in a similar situation on the Latvian-Belarusian border). Poland will not let them in and Belarus, which initially granted them visas, won’t let them return from the border. One thing is clear – these people would not be on the border if there were no bloody fights in their countries and if it were not for the politics of Belarus. Even before the elections in August 2020, Alexander Lukashenka threatened his neighbors that he would stop guarding the border and "flood" Europe with migrants and drugs. At the turn of spring and summer this year, Belavia airlines launched flights to Minsk from the Iraqi cities of Basra, Irbil and Suleimianija, and also increased the frequency of flights from Baghdad. In July, the Lithuanian border services began recording up to 300 people crossing the border illegally every day (there were about 100 such incidents in 2020). Those who have managed to obtain refugee status tell how such a transfer takes place. Bahaa Aldeen Zidan Alali, a 23-year-old dentistry student from Damascus, learned about the easy possibility of obtaining a Belarusian tourist visa from social media. He flew to Minsk, where he had an Egyptian friend – who knew Russian well and organized a transport for him near the green border with Poland for $1500. Another family from Syria had two options: either to give smugglers 16,000 euros per person and they were promised to be delivered to Germany, or to go to a Belarusian tourist office and buy a trip. The office seemed much safer to them and this option was cheaper. Such "tourist offices" were created as part of the action of the Belarusian special services called "Lock", which is to destabilize Europe with another wave of migration from the east and south.

With the tacit support of the European Union, the legislation was changed in Vilnius some time ago. Now, according to Lithuanian law, although against international law, it is possible to withdraw people from the border, preventing them from submitting an application for protection. Latvia has made similar changes. Polish government still has not decided to change the law, so using the so-called pushback (sending people who have illegally entered the territory of Poland back to the border) breaks Polish and international rules.

The EU also forced Iraq to suspend flights to Belarus. They are still on the timetable, the departure board of the Baghdad airport displays them, but tickets cannot be purchased. They are officially sold out, but the planes just aren't taking off. Belavia, on the other hand, increased the frequency of flights from Istanbul. Private jets also fly from Iraq to Minsk, with a stopover in Yemen (!).
According to Lithuanian data and estimates by the Belarusian opposition, in the border area there are still at least five thousand people from the Middle East who are not allowed to reach the border for the time being. Summary of Lukashenka's action: out of 4,140 people who have ended up in Lithuania so far, 2,803 are citizens of Iraq, mainly Kurds and Yazidis, and only 83 are citizens of Afghanistan. I'm sure the Belarusian regime was hoping for something else.

When the protection of the Lithuanian border was strengthened, the attention of the Belarusian services turned to Poland. At the end of June, the Border Guard began detaining Iraqi Kurds and Yazidis. Later also Afghan citizens. From January to August 21, 2021, the Office for Foreigners registered 625 applications from Afghan citizens for international protection.

Despite the presence of 1,800 soldiers on the nearly 200-kilometer section of the border with Belarus (not running along the Bug River), people still pass illegally to Poland. Analysts from the Centre for Eastern Studies believe, however, that there will be no mass migration from Afghanistan across this border. Most of the Afghans who recently arrived in Poland traveled through Central Asia and Russia.
Neverthless, on the eastern border of Poland (and at the same time the easter border of European Union) and close to it, something is happening that is at the same time a drama of specific people and goes beyond this drama. Those who say that accepting a group of 32 people from Usnarz Górny would not cost Poland anything are right. Those who say that Belarus would send more people in their footsteps are also right. In such conditions, and with the right-wing government at the helm of Poland, it had to happen in such a way that the whole situation with migrants became politicized. The government has sent troops to the area while building a variety of border fences.

Various opposition politicians in Poland, some of whom have visited the migrants, have criticized the inhumanity of the government’s position while trying to avoid being seen as in favor of a policy of open borders.

Information War

The Polish pro-government side claims that we are dealing with a hybrid war conducted by the Belarusian regime of Lukashenko. Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs said that the area between the Poland and Belarus borders is not a migration issue, but part of the aggression of Lukashenko toward Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with the aim to destabilize the E.U. “Lukashenko is using human beings in a terrible way,” she added in an interview. Having given them visas in Belarus and bringing them to the border, Belarus will now not let them leave, she said.

All the more surprising is the state of emergency introduced by the President of Poland Andrzej Duda on the night of September 2nd and maintained by Parliament in the border zone with Belarus. Right-wing politicians used very strong words to justify such actions by the Polish authorities. The President’s chief security advisor, Paweł Soloch, stated that "this is the first time we are dealing with threats of such a scale" and that is why a state of emergency should be introduced. "Today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, and tomorrow may come time for Poland - these words of Lech Kaczyński are becoming a fact today" - Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a speech. He put the events on the border into the history of the Polish struggle for independence. "Generations of Poles have shed their blood for this border, this border is sacred," he thundered. And the most memorable sentences from this speech will certainly include the words: "We are introducing a state of emergency not to limit freedom, but to ensure freedom." However, many opposition politicians point out that the introduced state of emergency primarily affected and prevented the work of activists and journalists operating on the border - some helped migrants, others informed the public about what was actually happening near the border with Belarus. Meanwhile, for over a week, neither activists nor journalists have been allowed to enter the areas covered by the emergency. "If you think that Poland is right in the conflict with Belarus, why are you afraid of the media?" - asked Tomasz Siemoniak, defense minister in Donald Tusk's government during the parliamentary session. He stated that although the threat posed by Lukashenko should not be underestimated, people should not be left without assistance on the border - and Poland is obliged to do so by international law. He also wanted to know why the prime minister did not meet the opposition and the president did not convene the National Security Council. Maciej Gdula from the left asked why Polish authorities apply Belarusian standards and do not allow journalists. At the same time, they give the field to Lukashenko, because it is the Belarusians who provide humanitarian aid to people on the border.

Every day Belarusians present new recordings and photos, admit foreigners traveling to Usnarz Górny – representatives of international organizations, collect "evidence" of human rights violations by Poland (and by Lithuania and Latvia). Then they publish them openly on the Internet, giving everyone the opportunity to find out for themselves who is bad and who is good. Of course, the message is tuned to fit the Belarusian script.

Poland can't defend itself against it. The line of defense of a democratic state in such a war are independent media, if they can observe the situation closely and verify the materials presented by the other state.

However, the Polish government dismissed journalists and by introducing a state of emergency closed the area where the migration crisis continues. Instead, it left a huge, unprotected hole in the information space. Today it's filled with materials from the Belarusian regime of Lukashenko.

Before the introduction of the state of emergency, there were no indications that the army and the Border Guard "could not cope" with several dozen or even several hundred migrants, as well as journalists and activists. If the state of emergency were to really serve mainly the security of Poland, the government of Law and Justice, whose politicians have been emphasizing the threats of mass migration from Muslim countries for years, in this case would have opted for an open information policy. But it happened otherwise. And this way of introducing a state of emergency must result in a decline of faith in the strength and causative power of the government. Once again in recent years, apparently showing strength, the Polish state has revealed before its citizens - but even worse, also for those abroad who wish Poland badly - only weakness.


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  • For a month now, the tragedy of 32 Afghan citizens, who have been stuck in no man's land on the Polish-Belarusian border due to the political game between Aleksandr Lukashenko and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has been unfolding. Similar things are happening on the borders in Latvia and Lithuania. The Polish government seems to be the worst coping with the situation. Why is that?
  • Even before the elections in August 2020, Alexander Lukashenka threatened his neighbors that he would stop guarding the border and "flood" Europe with migrants and drugs. At the turn of spring and summer this year, Belavia airlines launched flights to Minsk from the Iraqi cities of Basra, Irbil and Suleimianija, and also increased the frequency of flights from Baghdad.
  • The Polish pro-government side claims that we are dealing with a hybrid war conducted by the Belarusian regime of Lukashenko. Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs said that the area between the Poland and Belarus borders is not a migration issue, but part of the aggression of Lukashenko toward Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with the aim to destabilize the E.U.
  • Poland can't defend itself against it. The line of defense of a democratic state in such a war are independent media, if they can observe the situation closely and verify the materials presented by the other state. However, the Polish government dismissed journalists and by introducing a state of emergency closed the area where the migration crisis continues. Instead, it left a huge, unprotected hole in the information space. Today it's filled with materials from the Belarusian regime of Lukashenko.
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