People in Need supports efforts to assist refugees on Belarus-Poland borderPublished: Dec 21, 2021 Reading time: 3 minutes
Since the end of September 2021, the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border has become a humanitarian disaster. An estimated 28,500 migrants have attempted to cross the border into the European Union, and at least 15 have died trying. The actual number of victims is likely much higher. Three months into the crisis, people are still stranded in what has become a game of political chicken. Poland, which has declared a state of emergency in response to the border crossings, continues to restrict journalists and humanitarian organisations from entering the area, making it difficult to determine the scale of human suffering.
But reports have filtered out. For instance, migrants say they have been beaten with batons and rifle butts by Belarusian troops, were threatened by dogs, and repeatedly forced by Belarusian and Polish authorities to cross the border in dangerous conditions – even across a fast-flowing river.
"People at the border find themselves between two millstones,” explains Amnesty International's Refugee and Migrant Rights Researcher Jennifer Foster. “They are stuck in a de facto exclusion zone on the Belarus-EU border. They face hunger, are subjected to shocking levels of brutality by Belarusian forces who repeatedly force them to enter Poland, where they are systematically pushed back by Polish police officers. The opposing sides are playing a hideous game with human lives.,"
Among those who have endured such hardships is a Syrian family of four from Idlib – a 53-year-old mother and her three children. While attempting to cross the border into Poland, they were arrested by Polish police and returned to Belarus. A few days later, outside the emergency zone, they met volunteers from Grupa Granica, a consortium of 14 international NGOs working to assist stranded migrants. The family told the aid group that they had tried to enter Poland nine times.
"Local people called the police on us,” the family matriarch said. “Then, the police beat us up and chased us behind the fence. In one attempt we lost our documents. We don't know what will happen to us." Volunteers from Grupa Granica provided the family with food, socks, thermal blankets, and other basic necessities.
In a recent statement, Grupa Granica condemned Poland’s response to the crisis – and treatment of families like the one from Idlib. "We do not question the need to protect the Polish border, but it is unfair to present these two values – protecting human rights and ensuring state security – as contradictory or mutually exclusive. This is simply not the case. Every state is obliged to protect its borders, but at the same time, it is obliged to protect human lives and ensure respect for laws and human rights."
In addition to providing food, warm clothes and medicine, Grupa Granica’s support includes assisting migrants with emergency services and legal aid, and providing information on the rules for applying for international protection. Grupa Granica also documents human rights violations, informs the public, cooperates in the search for people lost in the border area, organises awareness-raising and information seminars for border communities, and provides interpreters and translators to assist stranded migrants. By the end of November 2021, Grupa Granica activists had provided assistance to nearly 6,000 people. The group's activities can be followed on Twitter or Facebook.
To support the network, People in Need has released half a million Czech crowns ($22,500 USD) from its Club of Friends humanitarian fund. To help fund Grupa Granica’s work, donations can be made through Fundacja Polska Gościnność, one of the group’s member organisations:
Account name: Fundacja Polska Gościnność
Account number: PL12 1750 0012 0000 0000 4087 4232
Bank and address: BNP Paribas Polska ul. Kasprzaka 2, 01-211 Warszawa
SWIFT code: PPABPLPK
IBAN: PL12 1750 0012 0000 0000 0000 4087 4232
About Grupa Granica
Grupa Granica is an umbrella organisation of 14 international NGOs that oppose the way Polish authorities have responded to the immigration crisis on its border with Belarus. Grupa Granica helps migrants who find themselves on Polish territory, provides humanitarian aid, and monitors human rights violations. The group's activities rely heavily on the work of volunteers, including residents of the area where the state of emergency has been declared.