Poland’s two very different borders – POLITICO

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WARSAW — Poland has enthusiastically welcomed more than 2.5 million refugees who have crossed the border from Ukraine. There is a much frostier reception for migrants trying to enter from Belarus.

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

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

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia responded by blocking their borders, and Polish authorities came under fire for pushing migrants back to Belarus without processing their asylum claims. The crisis has subsided in recent months and Lukashenko has allowed people to fly home, although some remain at the border.

It’s very different in Ukraine. Thousands of Poles have traveled to the border with relief supplies and food, and large numbers of Ukrainians have taken refuge in people’s homes. It has turned into a huge PR bonus for Poland’s nationalist government, which is 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 an extension. Refugees use public transport for free, have access to the health system and receive child benefit. It is part of an EU-wide response. The block permitted Ukrainian refugees receive 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 migration movement created by Lukashenko’s regime and orchestrated by Belarusian services.” This is “different from the flight movement from Russia’s war against Ukraine”.

But activists and opposition politicians are more skeptical.

Janina Ochojska, MEP for the centre-right European People’s Party, called the government’s stance “gross hypocrisy”.

“How can they be so cruel to some and not to others?” she said. In her opinion, the more favorable treatment is that Ukrainians are “white, Christian people who speak a similar language.” This is in contrast to the migrants from the Middle East on the border with Belarus.

The government argues that Ukrainians are fleeing the war at home via the nearest safe border – Poland – while those coming from Belarus have had to fly there from Iraq, Turkey or other countries and are therefore not refugees.

She also denies allegations that Poland is forcibly deporting people to Belarus.

“When we find migrants, we help them. There are no setbacks. If someone wants to apply for a stay in Poland, we will accept them. But most of them 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 guard.

That’s not what activists are reporting.

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

The border is a dangerous place. According to activists, 24 people died during the crossing. Border Patrol said it detained 2,744 illegal immigrants and prevented 33,776 attempts to cross the border last year.

While Polish volunteers helping Ukrainians are lauded by the government, those venturing near the exclusion zone along the border with Belarus to help migrants are treated very differently.

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

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

The NGO said the activists were providing humanitarian aid to a family with seven children who were stuck at the border for three months before finally making it to Poland.

They face up to eight years in prison.

Grupa Granica’s Monika Matus called the government’s actions “sheer harassment,” and Ochojska said “activists are criminalized because they help people.”

“The Polish government is basking in its own glory for its handling of the migrant crisis in Ukraine, but this horror show continues further north,” Matus said. “Bad illegal immigrants here and good legal refugees further south.”

https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-two-very-different-borders-ukraine-belarus-war-refugees/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Poland's two very different borders – POLITICO

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