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Polish activists say migrant rescue operations down near Belarus border

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By Valerie Gauriat
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Polish activists say migrant rescue operations down near Belarus border
Copyright  Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA

Activist groups in Poland who are trying to help migrants, say rescue operations have gone down considerably this week, as migrants were prevented from crossing the border with Belarus.

"Since Monday we had hardly any interventions. So probably the people we meet in the forest this week are those who crossed the border before Monday. It’s almost impossible to cross the border right now," Kalina Czwarnog, an activist from organisation Fundacja Ocalenie, or Rescue Foundation, which helps migrants build new lives in Poland, told Euronews.

Poland has issued a state of emergency preventing activists and journalists from reaching the border, posting video from the border area only on official government accounts as migrants gather in Belarus seeking entry to the European Union.

The EU has said the migrants are being used as part of a "hybrid war" in retaliation for sanctions against the Belarusian regime.

The Polish government sent thousands of soldiers and officers this week to guard the border but activists say the authorities should instead be providing aid.

"I think so far we are playing Lukashenko’s game. He is expecting us to push those people back," Czwarnog added.

"If we stop it, if we start to provide humanitarian aid, if we provide them with letting them through asylum procedure, I guess we would do something that he didn’t expect.”

Together with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, one of the activist groups, Grupa Granica, will notify the International Criminal Court in the Hague, for alleged crimes against humanity committed by the government of Belarus.

"This crisis is the result of really non-existing safe and accessible routes for people, for migrants seeking safety and shelter from violence, from discrimination, from conflicts," said Kasia Staszewska, an activist with Grupa Granica.

"What Poland and the Europeans should do is to support them to have access to the legal procedures. Whether this is international protection, whether this is other forms of protection, or whether this is dignified return to their home countries."

With aid agencies and even volunteer medics forbidden from the area with the border, the local community have in some cases stepped in to help migrants on the Polish side of the border.

“Apart from the fact that we just can’t agree to push-backs and to letting people die on our grounds, is that it’s also traumatising deeply the local community," said Magdalena Biejat, a Polish MP from the opposition Razem Party.

"The community that has been acting amazingly. Those are the silent heroes here who have been helping here on the ground the people that arrive here. And they are left alone without any support on the part of the polish government, and that shouldn’t be happening. They shouldn’t have to deal with that."

Many near the border fear that the situation could continue to escalate with more incidents like those that took place this week.

On Friday 12 November, the body of a Syrian man in his 20s was foundon another part of the border by a forestry employee and later in the night, the Polish army claimed there was another attempt by a group of some 100 people to storm the border.