Poland completes wall to stop migrants entering via Belarus

Fence has been criticised by humanitarian groups

A Polish border guard patrol car rides along the metal border wall in Kuznica. Getty Images
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Poland has completed a steel wall along its border with Belarus that is meant to deter refugees from crossing into the European Union.

Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees - many fleeing conflict and violence in the Middle East and elsewhere - have crossed or attempted to cross into Poland from Belarus since last summer.

The wall has been criticised by humanitarian groups that point to Poland’s open-door policy for Ukrainian refugees.

The West has accused Russia-friendly Belarus of orchestrating the influx of asylum seekers reaching the border.

“The barrier we've built separates us from the bleak dictatorship of [Belarusian leader Alexander] Lukashenko,” Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said.

“Belarus … shares responsibility for Russia's aggression against Ukraine,” he added, speaking in front of the 5.5-metre-high wall in Poland's border town of Kuznica.

The migrant wave at the Belarus border “was part of a wider scenario, a scenario to destabilise the whole region, all of Central and Eastern Europe”, he said. “It was groundwork for the war in Ukraine.”

Spanning more than 186km, the wall covers nearly half the length of Poland's border with Belarus and cost and estimated €350 million.

Poland had earlier set up a no-access zone at the border, which expires on Friday, banning non-residents, including migrants, aid workers and media from the area.

Natalia Gebert, the founder of a Polish group helping refugees, said: “If you give a lift to a refugee at the Ukrainian border, you are a hero. If you do it at the Belarus border, you are a smuggler and could end up in jail for eight years.”

Human Rights Watch has accused Poland of “unlawfully, and sometimes violently summarily pushes migrants and asylum seekers back to Belarus”.

Poland sent thousands of troops and police officers to reinforce border guard patrols at the height of the crisis and approved a law allowing migrants to be forced back into Belarus.

At least a dozen people have died at the Polish-Belarus border, where over the winter, migrants and refugees faced squalid, freezing conditions as they waited on Minsk and Warsaw to decide their fate.

Updated: June 30, 2022, 9:06 PM