WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Catholic humanitarian group aiding migrants on Poland’s border with Belarus on Friday denounced a police raid on their regional premises as a “scandalous” act of intimidation.
Armed police questioned four volunteers for hours on Wednesday night and confiscated laptops and mobile phones from the aid center run by the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia near the village of Grodek, outside the off-limits border zone.
Artur Kula, a lawyer working with the group, told a news conference Friday that the police action was “excessive and not appropriate to the situation.”
The group call the raid “scandalous” and say it is their mission to help save the lives of migrants stranded in the forests and bogs on the Polish side of the border, in line with Poland's law.
Thousands of Middle Eastern migrants have been trying to illegally cross into Poland and the European Union from Belarus. The 27-member EU says this is a “hybrid attack” by the authoritarian government in Belarus, intended to destabilize the bloc. Recent diplomatic efforts have reduced the migrant pressure, but attempted border crossings still take place every night.
Regional police spokesman Tomasz Krupa told The Associated Press that police suspect the volunteers may have violated laws which ban helping anyone to illegally cross Poland’s border. They came to that conclusion following routine checks of two cars belonging to the aid center.
Krupa insisted that the action was necessary and professionally conducted, adding that all guards and law enforcement officers are obliged to carry arms in the border area.
Kula, the lawyer, said it was “absurd” to suspect the reputed Catholic organization of smuggling people.
Poland's deputy Ombudsman, Hanna Machińska, said the police action seemed intended to intimidate activists bringing aid.
Recent regulations ban humanitarian activity from the border area, while reporters need permits to access specific areas.
“We are expecting that the Polish state will offer support and protection to nongovernmental organizations, especially those that offer humanitarian aid," the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia said in a statement.
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The Associated Press