According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as of January 2022 there were 1,675 people in detention centres across the country (with 972 persons in detention centres for families and the rest in those for men). The Red Cross reported that they had distributed hygiene kits, including personal protective equipment, to 112 detainees as part of an effort to limit spread of COVID-19.
In mid-January, as the situation of migrants trapped at Poland’s border with Belarus remained unresolved, the Polish Supreme Court issued a ruling condemning the government’s efforts to prevent journalists from accessing the region. The ruling came as the government ramps up construction of a 186-kilometre wall along its border to prevent asylum seekers from entering. The barrier could reach up to 5.5 metres, will be equipped with motion detectors and thermal cameras, and will cost approximately 353 million euros, which reportedly represents some 10 times the total annual budget of the country’s migration department.
In September 2021, Poland imposed a state of emergency that prevented journalists and humanitarian organisations (see 12 November 2021 Belarus update on this platform) from accessing border regions for security reasons. But the Supreme Court said that the ban was incompatible with Polish law and that the country’s constitution guarantees both freedom of movement and freedom to collect and disseminate information. The judges added that “there is no justification for admitting that this particular professional group represents a threat to steps taken.”
Several European countries, including Poland, have accused Belarus of weaponising migrant and refugee movements in order to destabilise the European Union as a revenge for the imposition of sanctions by the Union (see 12 November 2021 Belarus and 11 November Poland update on this platform). According to Polish authorities, at the end of October, there were around 500 people trying to cross the border per day whilst in 2020, a total of 120 people tried to cross the border.
In November 2021, thousands of asylum seekers were left trapped at the border between both countries in the midst of winter, forced to sleep in improvised camps in the middle of the forest (see 12 November 2021 Belarus update on this platform). At the same time as Belarusian authorities were reportedly helping migrants and asylum seekers cross the border to Poland, Polish authorities were pushing them back to Belarus.
So far, at least 19 people have died since the start of the border standoff between Poland and Belarus, most of them due to exposure to freezing temperatures. An expert from the Minority Rights Group said: “Instead of spending money on walls and private companies, (Poland) should be spending on developing a migration policy that prioritises human rights and safety of the people on the move.”
- Tondo, L. “Poland Starts Building Wall Through Protected Forest at Belarus Border,” The Guardian, 27 January 2022,” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/27/poland-starts-building-wall-through-protected-forest-at-belarus-border
- BBC News, “Poland to Build Belarus Border Wall to Block Migrant Influx,” 29 October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59096571
- Euronews, “Poland’s Supreme Court Slams Government for Restricting Media Access at Belarus Border,” https://www.euronews.com/2022/01/20/poland-s-supreme-court-slams-government-for-restricting-media-access-at-belarus-border
- IFRC, “Operational Update: Belarus and Neighbouring Countries – Europe Region,” 20 January 2022, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/MGR65001ou2.pdf
- Wall Being Constructed on the Border Near the Polish Village of Tołcze (Wojtek Radwanski, AFP, Getty Images, “Poland Starts Building Wall Through Protected Forest at Belarus Border,” The Guardian, 27 January 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/27/poland-starts-building-wall-through-protected-forest-at-belarus-border)