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Amnesty International says Poland illegally pushed migrants back into Belarus

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Poland carried out an unlawful pushback of a group of migrants camped out on its border with Belarus in late August, an analysis of satellite imagery and other photos and videos by NGO Amnesty International published on Thursday said.

Amnesty said that using satellite imagery from Aug. 18 it was able to detect the movement of these migrants from Polish territory back into Belarusian territory, shedding new light on their case, which has been difficult for NGOs and media to cover amid an ongoing state of emergency along the border.

“Forcing people back who are trying to claim asylum without an individual assessment of their protection needs is against European and international law,” said Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s European institutions office.

Poland and fellow European Union states Lithuania and Latvia have reported sharp increases in migrants from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq trying to cross their borders from Belarus, in what Warsaw and Brussels say is a form of hybrid warfare designed to put pressure on the EU over sanctions it imposed on Minsk.

Human rights groups and the media have not been able to access the border with Belarus since early September due to a state of emergency declared by the Polish government and expected to be extended by another 60 days starting Thursday.

Human rights groups have criticised Poland’s nationalist government over its treatment of migrants at the border, with accusations of multiple illegal pushbacks and failure to provide medical support as well as adequate food and shelter.

Three migrants died on the Polish side of the border and one more just inside Belarus earlier this month while trying to cross into Poland. The causes of death have not been given. A fifth death – of an Iraqi man just inside Poland, probably from a heart attack – was also reported.

Among the thousands of migrants who have crossed into Poland since July, more than 30 have been stuck on the precipice of the Polish and Belarusian border since mid-August, with NGOs warning that many of them were in poor health and needed medical support.

Amnesty International’s finding was published ahead of a meeting in Warsaw on Thursday between European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson and Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski to discuss the situation along Poland’s border with Belarus.

Last week, the EU executive expressed concern over the plight of migrants stuck on the Polish-Belarusian border and urged Warsaw to protect human lives and allow the bloc’s joint frontier force, Frontex, to provide assistance in the area.

Photo – Border guards stand next to refugees near the town of Usnarz Gorny, north-west Poland. EPA-EFE/ARTUR RESZKO

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