Poland sees rise of African migrants coming through Russia

·3 min read

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish officials said Thursday they’re seeing a change in migration across the country’s border with Belarus, with most of those seeking to enter Poland illegally now being Africans who first traveled to Russia, instead of people from the Mideast.

The government said the African migrants include those passing through Russia, Belarus' close ally and neighbor, and others who have been in Russia for a longer period.

In an emailed statement to The Associated Press, the government described the migration as part of a “hybrid operation aimed at destabilizing the NATO eastern flank.”

Since last summer, migrants and asylum seekers have been trying cross from Belarus into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia — nations on the eastern flank of both the European Union and NATO.

The countries have sought to discourage the attempted crossings, detaining migrants and pushing them back into Belarus. Poland has also recently completed a tall steel wall along along the 186 kilometers (115 miles) of its land frontier with Belarus.

The EU nations have been criticized by human rights organizations, which say that among the migrants are people fleeing persecution, who have the right under international law to request asylum.

European leaders have denounced the migration as an act of hybrid warfare, accusing Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of creating a new and artificial migration route in order to destabilize the EU. The government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said it believes Russia bears some responsibility too, given its alliance with Lukashenko.

Early on, most of the people who tried to enter the EU from Belarus were Afghans, Syrians, Kurds from Iraq and others from the Middle East. After the arrival of large numbers last summer, the EU intervened, including by getting Iraq to stop the flights, and the migration flow slowed.

It never stopped altogether, but the situation became overshadowed by the far larger numbers of Ukrainian refugees who were welcomed in Poland after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

The National Security Department within the prime minister's office told the AP that current Border Guard statistics show that the vast majority of migrants who seek to illegally cross at the Poland-Belarus border now come from Sub-Saharan Africa.

They “possess Russian visas and it is via Russia that they reach Belarus,” it said.

“(They) have visas issued for studies or work, but according to testimonies acquired by the Border Guard, they have never had such plans and they used visas only to get through the migratory route. Simultaneously, the Russian administration facilitates the procedure of obtaining the visas,” the government said. “Among migrants, there are also people who have been in Russia for a longer period of time.”

“The actions undertaken by Russia and Belarus confirm that the artificially created migratory route is controlled and coordinated by these two regimes and in future we should expect that the hybrid operation aimed at destabilizing NATO’s eastern flank will only intensify,” it added.

Border Guard data shows that there were 914 attempts to cross illegally from Belarus into Poland in July.

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Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press

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