Press release, 20 September 2021
Deaths At The Border
Three asylum seekers found dead on Poland’s border, as the government continues to deny access to asylum procedure.
Since the beginning of August, the Polish Border Guard has been illegally pushing asylum seekers attempting to cross the Polish border back to Belarus, where they have been facing similar treatment from Belarusian guards. At least some of the asylum seekers have been pushed like that several times. People have been forced to seek refuge in forests or on fields, with limited access to food and clear water, in some cases for over a month. With winter approaching, the temperatures in the area are now falling to 3-4 °C during the night.
The Ocalenie Foundation and other Polish NGOs working with refugees in the country have been regularly reporting on illegal pushbacks since mid-August, voicing concerns that such an inhumane treatment could lead to deaths. Unfortunately, that nightmare scenario became reality yesterday (September 19), when three people were confirmed by the Polish Border Guard to have died on the Polish side of the border. Neither the Border Guard, nor the prosecutor’s office provided any detailed information about their identities. However, media reports indicate that one of them, found in the village of Giby, 28 kilometers east of the city of Suwałki, was a man from Iraq and died of hypothermia. His two companions were hospitalised.
Also on September 19th, the Belarusian Border Guards reported that a woman was found dead in close proximity to the border. She was in the company of adult men and women and her three children, aged 7 to 15. The group supposedly reported that they had been forced by the Polish guards back to Belarus.
„This is the situation we’ve been warning about from the very beginning” says Piotr Bystrianin, Chair of the Board of the Ocalenie Foundation. “Ocalenie has been at the border since August 18, we warned that if the authorities and border guards do not stop breaking the law and pushing people back to the forests, if they do not start accepting applications for international protection, a tragedy would happen.”
The Polish government continues to hinder monitoring of the situation on the border and on September 3rd, it imposed a state of emergency along the border with Belarus. The 3-kilometers-wide border zone has become closed to NGO workers or journalists, making it impossible to independently verify the claims of Polish or Belarusian border guards. However, many illegal pushbacks or their attempts by the Polish guards were reported by the NGOs before the state of emergency was introduced.
“It is safe to assume that without the presence of NGO or media workers, the practice of pushbacks has been sustained.” says Kalina Czwarnóg from Ocalenie Foundation. “Especially that the government is trying to so-called “legalize” this inhumane procedure.”
On September 17th Polish Sejm (the lower chamber of the Polish parliament) voted to approve amendments in laws regarding asylum seekers. The new act, if passed through the Senat (the upper chamber) and signed by the president, would legalise pushbacks and the possibility to immediately (on the spot) deny the access to the asylum procedure.
“Confused, weak and exhausted people are being left in the forests, with no hope for help or a chance of being heard.” Kalina Czwarnóg adds. “We’re worried that without immediate action of international bodies, such as the United Nations, as well as opening the area for media and civil society representatives, the already tragic situation would only get worse”
This is why, on September 15, Ocalenie Foundation wrote to the United Nations, calling for urgent intervention. The full text of this letter can be found here.
Kalina Czwarnóg, Fundacja Ocalenie
tel. +48 881 280 409