Poland accused Belarus on Friday of trucking hundreds of refugees to the two countries’ border and encouraging them to illegally cross into Polish territory to enter the European Union, an accusation that comes hours after Belarusian officials cleared the refugee camp where thousands had been hunkered down.
Approximately 2,000 refugees, many of them Middle Eastern, were moved into a large warehouse on Thursday, enabling them to escape the freezing cold of the outdoor makeshift encampment. Several refugees had died while exposed to the cold temperatures.
Poland’s accusation against Belarus suggests that the escalating East-West crisis, which has been developing over the past few weeks, has not been resolved.
The European Union has been anxiously watching the situation at the border, given the prospect of several thousand migrants entering its borders.
Other European countries, along with Poland, have accused Belarus of orchestrating the crisis at the border – charges it denies.
But when asked in an interview with the BBC if Belarus had helped migrants cross into Poland, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said, “I think that's absolutely possible. We're Slavs. We have hearts. Our troops know the migrants are going to Germany. Maybe someone helped them. I won't even look into this."
Hours after the camps at the border had been cleared, Polish Border Guard spokesperson Anna Michalska said that by Thursday evening, Belarus authorities were again trucking hundreds to the site and forcing them to cross into Poland, according to reporting by Reuters.
"(The Belarusians) were bringing more migrants to the place where there was a forced attempt to cross," Michalska said. "At the beginning there were 100 people, but then the Belarusian side brought more people in trucks. Then there were 500 people."
During a news conference, Michalska stated that while migrants tried to cross the border, Belarusian troops used lasers to blind Polish guards. Some migrants also threw logs, and four guards sustained minor injuries.
Reuters reported that because access to the Polish side of the border is restricted by a state of emergency, Michalska’s account is difficult to verify.
Meanwhile, several hundred refugees decided Thursday to give up their hope of entering the EU and decided, instead, to take an Iraqi government repatriation flight to Irbil, in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.
According to the Associated Press, Poland said Friday that while there are no more migrants camping on Belarus’ side of the border, attempts to illegally cross into the EU continue and are increasingly aggressive.
In response to the situation, Ukraine, which also shares a border with Belarus, has stated it will build a border fence and ditch to deter migrants, as well as conduct military drills.
Despite the camp clearing, Michalska said that about 50 migrants entered Poland through a fence on Thursday, including a family of five who said they wanted to remain in the country, spurring the beginning of settlement procedures, according to the Associated Press.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.