WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's government announced Thursday that it will lift a state of emergency on July 1 along its border with Belarus as it completes the construction of a wall aimed at stopping migrants and refugees.
However, it will still ban people from getting within 200 meters of the border as workers install electronics onto the 5.5-meter (18-foot) high steel wall.
Poland began building the wall and restricted the rights of most people to enter the border area after large number of migrants, most of them from the Middle East, began crossing from Belarus into European Union nations Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
The EU accused the Moscow-allied government of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of encouraging the migration to punish those countries for EU sanctions on his government and to create chaos and disunity within the bloc.
As the new migration route was born, tens of thousands of people from Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, African nations and even Cuba began trying to enter the EU from Belarus.
Thousands made it across and made their way to Germany or elsewhere in Western Europe. But Polish border guards and police have also pushed migrants back across the border into Belarus, a practice that has led to some deaths. The pushbacks of migrants are considered illegal under international law, but Poland changed its own laws to allow them.
There have been reports of over 20 deaths, but refugee rights activists believe the death toll is far higher.
Poland's state of emergency, which restricts the movements of most people in the border area, had prevented journalists, human rights workers and other citizens from going there, making it more difficult to get a clear picture of the situation.
Human rights groups have condemned the pushbacks and accused Poland's government of having double standards — wholeheartedly welcoming Ukrainian war refugees while allowing dark-skinned asylum-seekers to die along the border.
The Interior Ministry said it does not need the border zone restrictions any longer “due to the progress of works on the construction of the barrier.”
Poland's steel border wall topped with barbed wire will run more than 180 kilometers (115 miles) next to Belarus. The border also includes the Bug River, and at least one migrant has already drowned trying to cross it.
Follow all AP stories on global migration at https//apnews.com/hub/migration.
Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press