The two very different borders of Poland – POLITICO

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WARSAW – Poland has happily welcomed more than 2.5 million refugees who crossed the border from Ukraine. The reception is much colder for migrants trying to enter from Belarus.

While Poland sees Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion as refugees, it is much more skeptical of the claims of people coming from Belarus – a border guarded by thousands of border guards, police, soldiers and a fence. .

The Belarusian crisis was sparked by Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, who invited people, mostly from the Middle East, to fly to Minsk and then enter the EU.

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have responded by blocking their borders, and Polish authorities have been criticized for pushing migrants back into Belarus without processing their asylum claims. The crisis has subsided in recent months, with Lukashenko allowing people to return home, although some still remain along the border.

It is very different with Ukraine. Thousands of Poles traveled to the border with aid and food, and large numbers of Ukrainians were housed in private homes. It turned into a huge public relations bonus for Poland’s nationalist government, more used to being criticized for backsliding on the rule of law and democratic standards.

All Ukrainian refugees are allowed to stay and work in Poland for 18 months, with the possibility of extension. Refugees use public transport free of charge, have access to the health system and receive family allowances. This is part of an EU-wide response. The bloc grants Ukrainian refugees temporary protection in the EU for up to three years.

The government explains the difference in treatment by pointing the finger at Lukashenko.

Stanisław Żaryn, spokesman for Poland’s Ministry of Special Services, said what is happening on the border with Belarus is “an artificial migratory movement created by the Lukashenko regime and orchestrated by the Belarusian services”. This is “contrary to the movement of those fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine”.

But opposition activists and politicians have a more skeptical view.

Janina Ochojska, a member of the European Parliament from the centre-right European People’s Party, called the government’s position “gross hypocrisy”.

“How can they be so cruel to some and not to others?” she says. According to her, the most favorable treatment is due to the fact that Ukrainians are “white Christians who speak a similar language”. This contrasts with migrants from the Middle East on the border with Belarus.

The government says Ukrainians are fleeing the war home through the closest safe border – Poland – while those from Belarus have had to travel there from Iraq, Turkey or other countries and are therefore not refugees.

He also rejects accusations that Poland is forcibly pushing people into Belarus.

“If we find migrants, we help them. There is no pushback. If someone wants to apply to stay in Poland, we will accept it. But most of these people just want to go to Germany. They want the benefits there. We are not a taxi service,” said Anna Michalska, spokeswoman for the Polish border guards.

That’s not what activists are reporting.

“We saw three Syrians pushed back eight times by Polish border guards. I saw it with my own eyes,” Ochojska said of a September incident at the border. “They asked in Polish written declarations for asylum in Poland. We called the border guards and they came, pushed us aside, took people’s passports and took them away in a truck. A day later, the Border Guard spokesman denied having any documents.

The border is a dangerous place. Twenty-four people died making the crossing, according to activists. Border guards said last year they detained 2,744 illegal immigrants and prevented 33,776 attempts to cross the border.

While Polish volunteers helping Ukrainians are hailed by the government, those who venture near the closed area along the border with Belarus to help migrants receive very different treatment.

Four Polish activists from the volunteer group Grupa Granica were arrested on 23 March.

“The four who were arrested helped migrants cross the border. It’s illegal,” Michalska said.

The NGO said the activists were providing humanitarian aid to a family of seven who had been stuck at the border for three months before finally arriving in Poland.

They risk up to eight years in prison.

Grupa Granica’s Monika Matus called the government’s actions “pure harassment”, and Ochojska said “activists are criminalized for helping people”.

“The Polish government is happy with its own handling of the Ukrainian refugee crisis, but this horror show continues further north,” Matus said. “Bad illegal immigrants here and good legal refugees further south.”


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