The international humanitarian organisation Médecins sans frontières (MSF) withdrew from the Polish border with Belarus last week after their doctors were repeatedly denied access to treat migrants and refugees.
"People are stuck in a forested border region in need of medical and humanitarian assistance; they face freezing temperatures," the organisation said in a statement. "EU policies and restricted access for aid organisations could result in yet more migrants and refugees dying."
MSF said that Polish authorities have blocked their emergency response team from accessing the forested region where refugees and migrants are said to be trying to cross into the EU.
An 'inhumane and unacceptable' situation
“We know that there are still people crossing the border and hiding in the forest, in need of support. But while we are committed to assisting people wherever they may be, we have not been able to reach them in Poland,” said Frauke Ossig, MSF emergency coordinator for Poland and Lithuania.
“The current situation is inhumane and unacceptable. People have the right to seek safety and asylum and should not be illegitimately pushed back to Belarus.”
Restricted access to NGOs at Polish border is part of broader #EU policies aimed at deliberately creating unsafe conditions for people to seek #asylum at its borders.https://t.co/Zw3YR5YTBa— MSF International (@MSF) January 9, 2022
MSF said that thousands of people have attempted to reach the EU by crossing from Belarus into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia since 2021; at least 21 people have died in extreme winter temperatures. Poland constructed border fences in response, declaring a state of emergency along its border zone and bringing in its military.
“Our team has heard numerous first-hand reports of violence, ranging from the theft and destruction of people's belongings to intimidation, intentional violence and physical assault on all sides of the borders,” MSF said.
EU accused of deliberately making migration unsafe
Ossig that not only have organisations been blocked from entering the restricted border zone, but also “some of the volunteers have been vilified and intimidated, and had their property destroyed in what is believed to be an attempt to stop them from providing support.”
MSF accuses the EU of deliberately creating unsafe conditions for people to seek asylum at its borders. MSF has withdrawn its emergency response team from the Polish border area but says that it will continue to work in Poland and will continue efforts in Lithuania and Belarus.