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Let’s not compete with Lukashenko, who has the stomach to watch migrants suffer for longer

Janis Voudouragkakis

By Markéta Gregorová, MEP

The Czech Army’s help to Poland  is in order. Let us not forget, however, what is happening on the Polish-Belarusian border: our troops are heading for a zone where humanitarian organizations are not allowed.

The Government of the Czech Republic will discuss a proposal for the operation of the Czech Army in Poland in order to strengthen the protection of the Polish-Belarusian border. It should be a maximum of 150 people for a maximum of 180 days in the period starting from the date of approval by the Parliament of the Czech Republic to 31 July 2022.

As an MEP oriented on this region, I am, of course, closely following the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border and, since the situation has gone awry, I have been trying to find a way to end the crisis. A way how to save lives, how to stabilize the EU’s borders and how to punish Lukashenko, who treats people like inhuman chessboard figures. The situation is extremely dramatic, and any auxiliary force will be handy. Poland is our close partner and immediate neighbour. Help with a situation that the Poles did not cause, and in which the EU border is at stake, is entirely appropriate.

However, it is also necessary to look at the situation in which the Czech Army enters from the point of view of international law. To whom it will give it´s help? Or to whom it may give green light for infringements?

 Manifestation of power, not of help

Poland is currently acting under the so-called “pushback law” amending the Act on Foreigners, which the Polish government adopted in an accelerated procedure in mid-October. All indications suggest that this law is in a conflict with the Rule of law (including the Polish Constitutions), European law and international law, as its approval abolished the democratic principle of double instance of administrative proceedings. It also infringes a number of basic rules of Asylum law, such as provisions to allow applications for international protection to be maintained without consideration.

And how is the border guard doing on the spot? They walk around disguised, their vehicles have covered license plates, their members refuse to legitimize themselves. At the same time, there is no possibility of appeal or protest against their proceedings, moreover, their acts cannot be documented in any way – for in the state of emergency there is a ban on making records.

The case of two opposition MP’s who opened their parliamentary offices in the municipality of Białowieża –  that is, in a territory where a state of emergency applies – in order to provide local psychological and legal support to locals, is symptomatic. Following the entry into force of the law in question, Urszula Zielińska and Klaudia Jachira were not allowed into the area where their offices are located. According to one of the deputies, the police were not able to  substantiate their actions by law.

No less worrying is the case of October 18, when activists of the Grupa Granica found an eight-member group from the Congo, which had two minors with health problems. Servais was paralyzed from the waist down, and his brother Asser decided to stay with him. The activists called an ambulance for them and the Family Court appointed one of the activists as their curator. However, in the afternoon of the same day, the boys disappeared, none of the surrounding hospitals have since acknowledged their hospitalization, and all authorities denied to have any contact with them.

In such an atmosphere, the Polish side must be urged to return the situation to the legal environment. No matter how much Poland got into this situation by no fault of its own, as an EU member state Poland has a duty to abide by international conventions and not to detain hundreds of people in a state of life-threatening danger and immediate injustice.

Let us keep in mind that Czech soldiers are heading to a zone, where humanitarian organizations are not allowed. For a long time, not even the media were allowed to get to the place. Currently, they can enter the site only partially, under strict conditions and guarded. Polish journalists call these journalistic excursions a “safari” – free movement or investigative journalism is impossible.

The Polish government keeps an information monopoly. What does it lead to? At a press conference the Minister of Defense Mariusz Błzczak and the Minister of the Interior Mariusz Kamiński presented materials allegedly found in the phones of people detained after crossing the Polish-Belarusian border: pictures of executions, armed man next to Kremlin, forged documents and photographs of zoophilic and pedophile scenes. Błaszczak thus demonstrated the challenge that border guards and soldiers must face. However, it turned out that the zoophilic scene, which the Minister explicitly showed at the press conference, in fact came from an old video available online. The Polish government is therefore using propaganda to further dehumanize migrants. This is incredibly irresponsible behaviour that is escalating the situation instead of helping to resolve it in any way.

Yet, for the entire duration of the state of emergency, there has been reported not a single crime or offense committed by any of the migrants – despite the paradoxical logic at the borders: commitment of a more serious crime would lead to arrestment and imprisonment, which would be a possible way to save life and to meet the basic means of life.

 Poland is a long way from a solution

The Polish approach is not only inhuman but also inefficient. The Polish government has not done anything to de-escalate the conflict and has not accepted help from anyone, exposing the entire EU to the potential risk of an armed conflict. Instead of establishing cooperation with, for example, Frontex, which has successfully solved the same situation on the Lithuanian border, the Polish government is reaching for force “solutions” and thus taking advantage of the situation for its own domestic political benefit.

Pushing people back beyond the Belarusian-Polish border without settling their rights has no effect, it only leads to further attempts to cross the border. People in good physical condition and with good equipment are the only ones having an actual chance to slip through the border guards – without a chance, on the contrary, will remain the people in poor health and families with children. The Polish approach therefore has the worst possible consequences, as it shamefully turns against the weakest.

If we tolerate the “push-back” strategy, we will get involved in undermining trust in the state and the law. We as the Czech Republic must not help to disguise the fact that Polish national institutions are failing.

The longer such a situation lasts, the more it legitimizes extremist tendencies in the society. If our government, together with Poland, shows that the lives of migrants are worthless to them, it will strengthen and justify similar tendencies for part of the Czech public. This effectively means adopting Lukashenko’s and Putin’s dehumanization strategy, which uses migration as a political tool to strengthen populists from undemocratic and anti-European parties. Europe must do what is right – EU must follow its own values, not to let itself being manipulated by the obscure Belarussian regime.

The EU must demonstrate its power by peaceful (diplomatic, political and economic) means and not compete with the Belarusian regime in who has the stomach to watch for longer how people are suffering. Europe should never have stepped into such a competition because innocent people, humanistic values, and ultimately everyone but those who actually caused the situation, are losing.

The author thanks Nina Baše and the organization Grupa Granica for the information directly from the spot and for the cooperation in their processing.

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