Tensions that have been building along the Poland Belarus border for weeks spilt over into violence on Tuesday. Polish border guards used water cannon against migrants on the Belarus side of the frontier. Warsaw says people were armed with gas grenades supplied by Belarus, which they threw over the fences towards Polish guards. Stones and rocks were also being fired during a tense standoff at the checkpoint. Belarus has accused Poland of pushbacks and of not allowing people to apply for asylum in the EU. But Warsaw says Minsk is engaged in a hybrid attack on the country.
Jack Parrock, Euronews” reporter in Brussels, says the situation on the border is a big concern for the EU, particularly when it comes to upholding people’s right to seek asylum.
“These people have been on that border for a number of days now is extremely cold and it appears that the this sort of boiling point has been reached. This is a huge concern for the European Union.”
There are also questions about the security of that border, but the big question as well, and this is probably something that hasn’t been talked about enough perhaps throughout this crisis, is that once those people do arrive into Poland, they do have the right to apply for asylum.
Niccolò A. Figà-Talamanca, Secretary-General at the No Peace Without Justice a non-profit organisation, explained that what Poland is doing is in contravention of international law:
“Conditions under which somebody arrives have no impact on the rights that people have under international law under Article 3.1 of the Refugee Convention to seek asylum in a country. It’s often the case that asylum seekers are forced to arrive or enter a territory without authorisation because they’re fleeing for persecution.”
The refugee convention is clear
Figà-Talamanca went on, “Poland has last month months ago passed legislation which allows for migrants to be pushed back at the border. So from the Polish point of view, from the Polish legal point of view, the authorities are abiding by Polish law. But Polish law is simply illegal under international law. The refugee convention is clear.”
Poland simply insists that it is protecting the EU’s external border. We’ve seen the European Union agree to sanction Belarus further over this migration issue. “Four rounds of sanctions against the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko haven’t really changed anything, but we know now that this is a situation that is getting ever more difficult, as we’ve seen with this, with this violence on the border”, Figà-Talamanca concludes
On Tuesday, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, said he’s concerned about the situation in Belarus, but he also said that he stands NATO’s stands in solidarity with Poland and other affected allies.
Poland hasn’t yet invoked Article 4 of NATO’s treaties, which is when serious consultations about military cooperation come into effect if a country feels that it may be being threatened. Poland hasn’t done that.
The Polish government feels actually that it’s got control of that border broadly. The military presence there is very heavy, but there is another angle to this as well. Ukraine has said that there are 100,000 Russian troops on their border. That’s obviously a concern for nature as well. So this eastern border within Europe of the European Union is becoming a bit of a big problem.
Watch Euronews’ full report in the player above.