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Poland illegally pushed migrants back into Belarus, Amnesty Int'l says

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By Reuters

By Joanna Plucinska and Robin Emmott

WARSAW/BRUSSELS -Poland carried out an unlawful pushback of a group of migrants camped out on its border with Belarus in late August, an analysis of satellite imagery and other photos and videos by NGO Amnesty International published on Thursday said.

Amnesty said that using satellite imagery from Aug. 18 it was able to detect the movement of these migrants from Polish territory back into Belarusian territory, shedding new light on their case, which has been difficult for NGOs and media to cover amid an ongoing state of emergency along the border.

A Polish government spokesman and the interior ministry did not reply to a request for comment. Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak was due to meet EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson at 1700 GMT in Warsaw.

“Forcing people back who are trying to claim asylum without an individual assessment of their protection needs is against European and international law,” said Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s European institutions office.

Poland and fellow European Union states Lithuania and Latvia have reported sharp increases in migrants from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq trying to cross their borders from Belarus, in what Warsaw and Brussels say is a form of hybrid warfare designed to put pressure on the EU over sanctions against Minsk.

Human rights groups and the media have not been able to access the border with Belarus since early September due to a state of emergency declared by the Polish government and expected to be extended by another 60 days starting Thursday.

Human rights groups have criticised Poland’s nationalist government over its treatment of migrants at the border, with accusations of multiple illegal pushbacks and failure to provide medical support as well as adequate food and shelter.

Johansson has said she was very concerned about the situation and called on Poland to allow EU border guards to the frontier, which Warsaw has so far not requested.

Three migrants died on the Polish side of the border and one more just inside Belarus earlier this month while trying to cross into Poland. The causes of death have not been given. A fifth death – of an Iraqi man just inside Poland, probably from a heart attack – was also reported.

Among the thousands of migrants who have crossed into Poland since July, more than 30 have been stuck on the precipice of the Polish and Belarusian border since mid-August, with NGOs warning that many of them were in poor health and needed medical support.