“We feel like we are at war.” Poles on the border with Belarus – about the influx of migrants

“We feel like we are at war.” Poles on the border with Belarus – about the influx of migrants

Irina Polina

The influx of migrants on the Polish-Belarusian border and the sharp reaction to this by the Polish security forces provoked an atmosphere of martial law in the border regions of Poland. Local residents are watching with concern, and the authorities assure that they are in full control of the situation.

Risk zone

At a distance of three kilometers from the border on Polish territory, the state of emergency introduced by the authorities against the background of the migration crisis has been in effect for the third month. Only local residents or those who have received a special permit can stay in this zone. Even journalists are not allowed into the area covered by the state of emergency. Photo and video filming at the scene is only allowed for the Polish security forces.

The situation escalated on Monday morning, when footage of several thousand migrants approaching the border from Belarus appeared in the media and social networks. The Polish authorities informed that they have strengthened the perimeter security, where, in addition to border guards, military and police are now serving – two battalions of the Territorial Defense Forces (volunteer formations) were mobilized.

In the afternoon, it came to the first attempts to forcefully cross the Polish-Belarusian border by illegal migrants in the area of the Kuznitsa Bialystokskaya border crossing (from the Belarusian side of the Bruzgi). The Polish Border Guard posted a video on Twitter showing a large group of migrants using long logs and wire cutters to break through the barbed wire fence. On the Polish side of the border, they are opposed by representatives of the police in protective helmets and vests with shields, representatives of the border guard and the armed forces. The recording shows that the security forces used tear gas.

The migrants shouted that they wanted to get to Germany, and the Polish border guards informed through loudspeakers that there was no border crossing in the place where they were, and the Polish border was closed.

Control

The border crossing at Kuznitsa is now completely closed. At the entrance and exit to the emergency zone, the police are on duty, who find out the reasons for driving to the border, and also check the interior and trunk of the car. Large vehicles are controlled by the traffic police, inspection is carried out at a considerable distance from the border – all passengers and car body compartments are still checked. Truck drivers, who preferred to transport goods through the Forge, were forced to stay in line here for a long time last evening. And when in the morning the border crossing was completely closed, many had to turn around and go to other checkpoints.

Despite the increased security, there are still isolated cases when illegal migrants can be transported to Polish territory, the interlocutors shared their conjectures with me.

Locals

The nearest settlement to the emergency zone is the village of Khreptovets. Here I went to a small roadside cafe, his employee Joanna shared her emotions from the past day: “There were a lot of cars, military columns were passing by with flashing lights. It’s scary. We feel like we are at war.” And she added that “now everything is calm,” but there was a case when “two foreign migrants went to this very cafe.” “They ordered soup, eagerly ate bread, bought all the sweets, water, cigarettes, charged the phone and left,” she explained.

According to her, several thousand Polish citizens live in the border zone, where the current situation is most tense. Basically, in this “area there are villages, and Kuznitsa is the largest city.” “I think most [local people] are worried,” the woman said.

True, another employee assesses the situation in a completely different way: a large number of military personnel and representatives of various power structures reassures him. “It’s safer this way,” he said.

According to a poll by the IBRiS research center, published on Tuesday by the newspaper Rzecz Pospolita, most Polish citizens would not like to see migrants on their territory. 82% of the republic’s residents want the EU to help Warsaw resolve this crisis and share the moral responsibility for what is happening. At the same time, 54.5% of respondents believe that the Polish special services should immediately send illegal migrants back. At the same time, 60% are in favor of giving them the opportunity to apply for asylum. “In studies on humanitarian aid, the participants willingly agreed to humanitarian aid for migrants, although at the same time they were opposed to letting them into Poland,” Rzecz Pospolita notes. “We want to have an excuse to consider ourselves not cruel and evil, but rather those

Camp

Now the migrants have set up a camp near the Kuznitsa Belostokskaya border crossing. According to the border guard, there are about 800 people there. They have tents, sleeping bags, and the ability to make a fire. How long they will stay in this zone is unclear. The Polish authorities do not exclude new attempts to forcefully cross the border.

“There are 3-4 thousand people in the forest areas. But they are located along the entire section of the Polish-Belarusian border. Realizing the great pressure at the border crossing in Kuznica, we must also constantly monitor other areas and protect the border,” said a spokeswoman for Podlaski Polish Border Guard Branch Katarzyna Zdanovich. According to her, shots are constantly heard on the Belarusian side: “We are observing the situation from the air. We see soldiers there [on the Belarusian side], there are more and more of them.”

At the same time, on November 8, the media reported on a statement by a representative of the State Border Committee of Belarus, according to which, the sounds of shooting on the border with Poland were heard from the Polish side.

Government plans

In total, according to the Polish authorities, there may be 12-14 thousand potential illegal migrants in Belarus, who are deliberately taken by the Belarusian authorities towards the Polish-Belarusian border. Some Polish politicians even claim that Minsk is allegedly acting in cooperation with Moscow in this matter.

According to Polish President Andrzej Duda, what is happening at the border is “a hybrid action” being carried out by Minsk “against Poland and the EU.” “These groups of migrants, who yesterday walked towards the Polish border, several thousand people, judging by the video recordings, were clearly directed by the Belarusian services, which at the last moment took these people from the normal road into the forest to attack the Polish-Belarusian border where there border crossing “, – says Duda.

At the same time, representatives of the Cabinet of Ministers assure that Poland is coping with the protection of the border and so far does not need help. However, the Polish Foreign Ministry does not rule out that the migration situation on the Polish-Belarusian border may worsen so much that the republic will be forced to turn to NATO for help. In particular, the possibility of launching the 4th article of the North Atlantic Treaty is being discussed, which provides for the convening of the NATO Council for consultations if one of the countries of the alliance believes that there is a threat to its security.

Other measures include new sanctions against Belarus. “This is not only about sanctions that directly affect specific people, regarding the ban on entry, for example, to the European Union. Most of all we support economic sanctions. And we propose these sanctions,” said the spokesman for the Polish government, Piotr Müller.

Answering the question whether the government is considering closing the border for Belarusian goods, he admitted that this decision should be considered, as it will negatively affect Polish businessmen. According to Müller, among other things, diplomatic work is underway to ensure that other countries suspend flights with migrants to Belarus.

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