Activists Condemn Poland for Stranding 32 Afghan Migrants on Border With Belarus

Human rights activists have condemned Poland for leaving 32 Afghan migrants stranded on the border between Poland and Belarus for more than three weeks, calling the behavior "inhuman."

Protestors and human rights activists have traveled to the border in recent weeks to try and help the stranded migrants. But Poland says they are on Belarusian soil and will not allow them to approach Polish territory or request asylum.

Marianna Wartecka of the refugee rights group Fundacja Ocalenie said many of the migrants are sick. Eight of them have kidney problems and five have diarrhea, and the sickest person is a 52-year-old woman who traveled with her five mostly grown children.

An activist who speaks Dari, one of Afghanistan's official languages, has used a megaphone to communicate with the Afghan migrants, who shout back or gesture their answers. Wartecka told the Associated Press that Polish border guards have run sirens and set up vans to interrupt the communications.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghan Migrants Poland
The fate of 32 migrants stranded on the border between Belarus and Poland is rapidly becoming a major headache for the Polish authorities, desperate not to show weakness in a stand-off with their authoritarian neighbor. Migrants believed to be from Afghanistan sit on the ground in the small village of Usnarz Gorny near Bialystok, northeastern Poland, located close to the border with Belarus, on Aug. 20, 2021. Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images

Poland's government asked the president Tuesday to declare a state of emergency along the border with Belarus as it tries to stop migrants from entering from the neighboring country. The government citied the potential risk from foreign actors and the actions of protesters in Poland as rationales for the declaration.

Meanwhile, the Afghan migrants have been stuck for more than three weeks between armed Belarusian guards on one side and armed Polish forces on the other. Some are ill as they have limited access to food and the weather is getting worse, with recent rain and falling temperatures.

Poland, a European Union member, has seen a large number of migrants seeking to illegally cross the border in recent weeks, most of them originally from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Polish government accuses the authoritarian leader of Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, of pushing them to Poland to create instability in the EU.

"We have to stop these aggressive hybrid actions, which are carried out according to a script written in Minsk and at the hands of Mr. Lukashenko's protectors," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a news conference in Warsaw.

Morawiecki's government has asked Polish President Andrzej Duda, an ally, to approve the state of emergency. Duda has a news conference scheduled for later Tuesday.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski, speaking alongside Morawiecki, said a state of emergency would not have much of an effect on the local population but would impose limits on outsiders in an area about 3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles) wide next to the border.

Wartecka thinks the state of emergency would require the activists to move further away from the border area.

Over the weekend, 13 people from a different activist group, Obywatele RP (Citizens of Poland), were detained for trying to cut a new barbed-wire barrier going up on the border to protest what they called the "inhuman" behavior of Polish authorities.

Kaminski described the behavior of the activists as "scandalous."

The interior minister also noted that Russian military maneuvers scheduled to begin on Sept. 10 include exercises in Belarus.

"We have to take into account various types of provocations. It is about the safety of our residents," he said.

An interfaith coalition called on Polish authorities Tuesday to give humanitarian aid to the stranded migrants. The coalition, which includes Christian, Jewish and Muslim representatives, said the people stuck at the border "suffer from hunger, cold and indifference."

"Motivated by feelings of human solidarity, we call on the competent Polish authorities to immediately provide the refugees stranded in the border area with the necessary humanitarian aid: provide them with hot meals, drinks, medicines, and medical assistance," the Community of Conscience - Coalition of Mutual Respect said in a statement.

Poland has deployed hundreds of soldiers to reinforce border guards and has been installing a tall barbed wire barrier.

Polish border guards said that more than 3,200 people tried to cross illegally into Poland from Belarus in August alone. It said most were from Iraq, followed by Afghanistan, but that some also came from Somalia, Tajikistan and Syria.

Other EU nations on Belarus' border — primarily Lithuania but also Latvia and Estonia — have also faced migration pressure. The four have increased security at their borders, which form part of the EU's external border.

Polish Border Patrol
Activists have condemned Poland for refusing to offer aid for 32 Afghan migrants stranded on the border with Belarus. In this photo, Polish politician Klaudia Jachira tries to negotiate with border guards next to migrants from Afghanistan in the small village of Usnarz Gorny located close to the border with Belarus, on Aug. 20, 2021. Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images