Poland and Latvia defend treatment of migrants stuck on Belarus border

Warsaw and Baltic states say Minsk regime must take responsibility for influx

Migrants in the tent camp close to the Lithuania-Belarus border near Medininkai, Lithuania. Photograph: Valda Kalnina/EPA

Migrants in the tent camp close to the Lithuania-Belarus border near Medininkai, Lithuania. Photograph: Valda Kalnina/EPA

 

Poland and Latvia have defended their treatment of migrants who are trapped on their borders with Belarus, after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) called on them to provide the migrants with vital aid.

Poland, Latvia and neighbouring Lithuania have stopped record numbers of people at their eastern frontiers in recent weeks, since Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko said he would let migrants move freely through his country after the EU imposed more sanctions on his regime for its crackdown on critics.

The EU and the three affected member states say Belarus has recently increased the number of flights from Iraq and Turkey to Minsk, from where state agencies allegedly help the migrants’ travel on to western border areas.

In response to a complaint from a group of Afghans stuck on the Belarus-Poland border and Iraqi Kurds trapped on the Belarus-Latvia frontier, the ECHR said the EU members should “provide all the applicants with food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and, if possible, temporary shelter.”

“It clarified, at the same time, that this measure should not be understood as requiring that Poland or Latvia let the applicants enter their territories,” the court said in a statement, adding that the migrants were “currently unable to enter [the EU states] nor to return to Belarus ... They are thus stranded at the borders.”

Security fences

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki insisted his country was giving adequate assistance to migrants who crossed its border, but Belarus was preventing supplies sent by Poland from reaching migrants stuck on Belarusian territory.

“We have prepared food, medicines, blankets and tents for the people ... but we need the consent of the Belarusian authorities to deliver our aid,” he said on Thursday.

The migrants were “invited by Belarus and granted Belarusian visas ... [so] it is the Belarusian state which should take care of them”, he said of migrants stuck in Belarus, adding that Minsk was using them “to destabilise the situation in Poland and the European Union”.

In Latvia, interior minister Marija Golubeva said the situation on the border was “tense” but the trapped migrants were receiving supplies.

“Latvia is already acting in accordance with the proposal of the ECHR ... and border guards are working with nongovernmental organisations to provide essential food, clothes and medical help to those arriving at the border with Belarusian territory.”

Lithuania says more than 4,000 people have tried to cross its border with Belarus illegally so far this year, compared with about 80 during the whole of 2020; Poland stopped just 122 illegal migrants at the Belarusian frontier last year, but that has soared to almost 3,000 this month alone.

Both EU states – which are strong critics of Mr Lukashenko and support his opponents – are now building security fences along their borders with Belarus.