Belarus-Poland border standoff leaves migrants suffering in the middle
Category: News & PoliticsVia: perrie-halpern • 3 weeks ago • 22 comments
By: Yuliya Talmazan, Andy Eckardt, Reuters, Associated Press and Alan Kaytukov contributed.
Poland and other European Union member states accuse Belarus of using migrants as pawns to create a new wave of mass migration into the bloc. At least 8 have died, according to the Associated Press.
Belarus is encouraging migrants to illegally cross into the E.U. in revenge for sanctions imposed over President Alexander Lukashenko's violent crackdown on last year's mass protests and wider human rights violations, European officials say.
Autocrat Lukashenko, whose government is propped up by the Kremlin, has denied engineering the crisis and instead blames the West.
In response Poland's right-wing government has strengthened the force of soldiers stationed at the border to 15,000 from 12,000.
The country's defense ministry shared a video on Twitter purporting to show the Belarusian side "intimidating" migrants by firing shots as people near the barbed-wire fence can be heard screaming. It was not clear how the ministry obtained the video, when it was filmed or whether anyone was hurt.
NBC News could not independently verify the video, and has reached out to the Belarusian defense ministry for comment.
Images also started to emerge showing injuries among migrants. A photo shared by Reuters shows Youssef Atallah, a migrant from Syria, displaying apparent facial injuries after he said he was beaten by Belarusian border guards.
Youssef Atallah, a migrant from Syria, pictured in the center for migrants in Bialystok, Poland.Marko Djurica / Reuters
Meanwhile, the Belarusian State Border Committee published videos and photos allegedly showing Kurdish migrants they say were beaten and injured by Polish security forces. The Polish defense ministry told NBC News in an email these were a "provocation" and part of a "disinformation campaign" to discredit Polish forces. NBC News has not verified the videos or photos.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pointed the finger directly at Lukashenko on Wednesday, accusing the Belarusian leader of "ruthlessly using people seeking refuge as hostages for his cynical power game."
Maas called the images emerging from the Belarusian border "appalling."
"We will not abandon anyone who is in need," he said.
Many migrants have flown to Minsk on tourist visas before making their way to the border. Leonid Shcheglov / TASS via Getty Images
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR called for an end to the "instrumentalization of migrants and refugees" to achieve political goals Tuesday, describing the situation as "deplorable."
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the rights of migrants should be of paramount concern.
"These hundreds of men, women and children must not be forced to spend another night in freezing weather without adequate shelter, food, water and medical care," she said in a statement on Wednesday.
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