Polish border guards fire teargas at migrants as officer taken to hospital in Belarus border clashes

Barrages of stones and water cannon jets exchanged in three-hour battle

Amanda Coakley
in Poland
Tuesday 16 November 2021 18:18
Comments
<p>A man runs away from a water cannon used by Polish law enforcement officers</p>

A man runs away from a water cannon used by Polish law enforcement officers

Scuffles at the Kuznica checkpoint broke out on Tuesday between Polish border guards and migrants trapped in Belarus.

Frustrated refugees threw stones and attempted to remove part of the temporary fence that blocks their path to the European Union. The Polish side responded with the use of water cannon and teargas, soaking the migrants who have already been subjected to freezing temperatures.

The clashes lasted around three hours after which time Belarusian guards directed the people back towards a makeshift “camp” in the forest – further back from the border fence.

Polish police said an officer is being treated in hospital for a suspected fractured skull after being hit on the head by “an object”. Poland’s defence ministry also accused Belarusian forces of trying to destroy fencing along the border.

It also claimed the migrants were using stun grenades or similar weapons given to them by Belarusian officers who are no longer trying to conceal their engagement in stirring violent incidents.

Border Guard spokesperson, Anna Michalska, said an estimated 2,000 migrants were at the border crossing but only about 100 were believed to be involved in attacking the Polish forces.

Poland has reinforced the border with riot police as well as troops, rolling out razor wire along with plans to build a steel fence. The approach has largely met with approval from the west, with other European countries keen to halt the arrival of another migration wave.

The Kuznica border is part of the European Union’s eastern frontier, and the EU has accused the authoritarian regime of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating a migration crisis to pressure the bloc.

The ongoing crisis has drawn in regional and major powers, led to increased sanctions from the EU on the regime in Minsk and warnings from Nato about the need to de-escalate tensions.

A large number of migrants are trapped at the border. Most are fleeing conflict and poverty in Syria and Iraq and hope to reach western Europe.

To date, more than a dozen people have died in the border region.

Migrants clash with Polish forces at the Bruzgi-Kuznica border checkpoint

On Monday, a 19-year-old Syrian was buried in the small Polish village of Bohoniki after allegedly drowning in a river in the forest. With temperatures set to plummet in the coming weeks, concerns are growing about the migrants’ safety if the situation on Europe’s eastern frontier is not solved.

Signs also emerged that some people on the Belarus-Poland border want to return to Minsk but it’s unclear if the Belarusian authorities will allow that to happen. So far, they have not allowed people to return once they arrive at the border.

Earlier this week the Iraqi government said it will carry out a repatriation flight from Minsk on Thursday for those who wish to return home “voluntarily”.

Polish law enforcement officers using a water cannon on migrants

In Moscow, Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov accused Poland of violating international humanitarian laws. “The behaviour of the Polish side is completely unacceptable,” he said at a press conference in the capital. He also took aim at the European Union who he accused of having “double standards”.

Belarus’s State Border Guard Committee said it was also investigating Poland’s use of force.

“These are considered violent actions against individuals who are on the territory of another country,” committee spokesperson Anton Bychkovsky said.

Russian president Vladimir Putin also spoke to his Belarusian counterpart on Tuesday where they discussed the crisis on Belarus’s frontier with Poland, Tass news agency confirmed.

On Monday France’s president Emmanuel Macron spoke to Mr Putin and agreed on a “de-escalation” of tensions on the border.

Additional reporting by PA

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