Polish forces use water cannons on migrants who threw stones

International

Belarusian Red Cross employees hand over humanitarian aid to migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere gathering at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. The EU is calling for humanitarian aid as up to 4,000 migrants are stuck in makeshift camps in freezing weather in Belarus while Poland has reinforced its border with 15,000 soldiers, in addition to border guards and police. (Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA via AP)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish border forces on Wednesday said they were attacked with stones by migrants at the border with Belarus and responded by using water cannons against them.

The Border Guard agency posted video on Twitter showing a water cannon being directed across the border at a group of migrants in a makeshift camp.

Polish police said one officer was seriously injured when the migrants threw objects. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital and it is likely his skull was fractured after being hit by an object.

The situation marks an escalation in a tense migration and political border crisis where the lives of thousands of migrants are at stake.

The border is also part of the European Union’s eastern border, and the EU accuses the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating a migration crisis at the border to pressure the bloc.

A large number of migrants are now at the border, where migrants are stuck in a makeshift camp with temperatures falling to freezing at night. Most are fleeing conflict, poverty or hopelessness in Syria and Iraq and hope to reach Germany or elsewhere in western Europe. To date there have been reports of 11 deaths.

Poland’s Defense Ministry said its soldiers and other border forces were attacked with stones and other objects.

The ministry also said that Belarusian forces tried to destroy fencing along the countries’ common border, while the Interior Ministry posted video apparently showing migrants trying to tear down a fence.

Poland has taken a tough stand, reinforcing the border with riot police and troops, rolling out coils of razor wire and making plans to build a tall steel fence. The Polish approach has largely met with approval from the West, with other EU countries keen to stop the arrival of another migration wave.

Yet Polish authorities have also been criticized for pushing migrants back across the border and not allowing them to apply for asylum.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday called the actions of Polish forces “absolutely unacceptable.” Lavrov charged that Polish forces “violate all conceivable norms of international humanitarian law and other agreements of the international community.”

Polish officials have often said that Russia bears some responsibility for the crisis at the border given Moscow’s alliance with Belarus. The Russian government has denied responsibility.

There was no way to independently verify what was happening because a state of emergency in Poland is keeping reporters and human rights workers out of the border area. In Belarus journalists face severe restrictions on their ability to report as well, with only a few present at the border.

At one point Tuesday a Polish independent broadcaster, TVN24, was forced to rely on CNN in order to show a picture of the border not filtered through government authorities.

Poland’s parliament is expected Tuesday to take up a legislative proposal that would regulate the ability of citizens to move in the area of the border with Belarus after the state of emergency ends at this end of this month.

The state of emergency was imposed at the beginning of September as a large number of migrants from the Middle East sought to cross into Poland from Belarus.

The EU has been putting pressure on airlines to stop transporting Syrians, Iraqis and others to Belarus.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is urging its citizens trapped at the border to return home.

Some 200 Iraqi nationals who arrived in Belarus with the intention of crossing into the EU reached out to the Iraqi embassy in Russia and expressed a desire to return to their homeland, an embassy spokesman told the Interfax agency on Tuesday.

The spokesman added that an evacuation flight will take place on Thursday and all those wishing to return to Iraq are already in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, awaiting the flight. There were no issues with transporting the migrants from the border to Minsk, the diplomat told Interfax, and Belarusian authorities have provided all the necessary assistance.

With the crisis at the Polish border, the National Bank of Poland announced Monday that it would issue a collector’s coin and banknote devoted to the “Defense of the Polish Eastern Border.”

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