WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland has deployed hundreds of troops and is laying barbed wire along its border with Belarus to stop the arrival of migrants seeking to enter the country, officials said Wednesday.
Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said more than 900 Polish troops were involved in the border operation. It's believed that most of the migrants trying to cross over from Belarus are originally from Iraq, with some from Afghanistan and Syria as well.
Poland, like the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, accuse the authoritarian government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of sending migrants across their borders, which also form part of the European Union’s eastern border.
A deputy interior minister in Poland, Maciej Wasik, tweeted images of rolls of barbed wire laid along the border. The Defense Ministry said that barbed wire now runs for nearly 100 kilometers (60 miles) of the 418-kilometer (260-mile) Poland-Belarus border and that enough to cover another 50 kilometers most vulnerable to illegal border crossings would be installed soon.
The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that 2,100 people tried to illegally cross the border so far this month. Of those people, border guards prevented 1,342 from entering Poland and 758 “were detained and imprisoned in closed centers.”
“The government’s priority is the safety of Polish citizens,” the ministry said in a statement. The government, which is led by the right-wing Law and Justice party, “has been opposed to illegal and uncontrolled migration from the outset” and believes the migrants trying to get in from Belarus “maybe pose a threat to our citizens.”
Two lawmakers from the opposition party Civic Platform party brought blankets, sleeping bags and food to a group of some 50 people trapped in a no-man’s land between Poland and Belarus on Wednesday. They called on the Polish government to ensure the group was given humane treatment.
Poland and the Baltic nations accuse Lukashenko of using the migrants as instruments in a “hybrid war.” They believe his government has acted in retaliation to EU sanctions imposed on Belarus following Lukashenko's reelection last year in a vote which the West saw as rigged, as well as for harsh repressions of Belarusian protesters.
European Union ministers were holding a meeting on Wednesday to address the matter. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on the eve of the meeting that “this is hybrid aggression that uses human beings.”
The government in Warsaw is also working on legislation that would address the migrant influx, though it could take weeks to pass any new law.
The draft legislation says that Poland would not have to consider applications for refugee status of those who enter the country illegally or arrive from a country where the government does not consider them to be in danger, including Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
Follow AP's coverage of migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration
Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press