Hundreds of people demonstrated in the large Polish cities of Warsaw and Krakow to call for better treatment of refugees, many of whom are using the “Belarus route” to enter the European Union from the Middle East and elsewhere.
The rallies on October 17 came amid moves by the Polish government to introduce tough measures to stem the flow of illegal migrants into the Central European nation.
In the capital, Warsaw, demonstrators chanted “stop torture at the border” as they gathered in front of the Sejm, the lower house of parliament.
Rally participants called for an end to deportations and accused the government of using the so-called pushback method along Poland’s border with Belarus.
The government is finding itself in a tough bind as it looks to stem the flow of migrants into the country and the EU while also answering to rights activists expressing concerns about the treatment of refugees.
Warsaw has declared a state of emergency at the border with Belarus and is erecting a permanent border fence because of the latest crisis seen there.
EU and national officials have accused Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka of orchestrating the “weaponization” of migrants in response to Brussels’ sanctions on Minsk over a brutal crackdown on dissent since a 2020 presidential election that is widely considered to have been rigged.
German authorities have complained of a flood of illegal migrants via the “Belarus route,” estimating that the flow of migrants arriving via Poland and Belarus has spiked with more than 4,300 illegal entrants to the country since August.
They said most of the undocumented migrants arriving via the “Belarus route” are from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Iran.
Polish soldiers have continued work on a 2.5-meter barbed-wire border fence that Warsaw wants to permanently fortify the frontier with Belarus.
Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said the country needs a “solid, high barrier equipped with a surveillance system and motion detectors.”
A government plan for the construction that avoids use of the term “wall” in favor of the terms “barrier” and “barricade” is currently headed to the Polish parliament for approval.
The Polish parliament last week also amended a law to allow commanders of local border guard units to expel people who enter the country illegally.
The United Nations refugee organization (UNHCR) said the measure undermined people’s fundamental right to asylum and contradicted the UN Refugee Convention.