Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner of the Council of Europe for Human Rights, said that “urgent measures are needed to save people’s lives” on the Polish-Belarusian border. She also called for the provision of access to the border areas for representatives of humanitarian organizations and the media. She added that “although the situation is the result of shameful behavior by Belarus, it does not relieve Poland of its obligations towards human rights.”
“The humanitarian situation along the Polish border with Belarus is alarming. Urgent action is needed to save the lives of people stranded in the border region,” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, quoted in a statement published on the Council of Europe website.
As the release reads, “in the current highly politicized context, supported by a narrative dominated by security issues, the basic human rights of those affected have been pushed back and forgotten.” “Although the situation is the result of shameful behavior by Belarus, it does not release Poland from its obligations towards human rights. A solution must be found that will put human life in the first place and ensure respect for its dignity and rights” – it was written.
The statement assessed that the ban on entry to the state of emergency on the Polish side of the border had “harmful consequences”. “It prevents international organizations and civil society from providing necessary humanitarian aid and carrying out key activities in the field of monitoring and respecting human rights,” it wrote.
Mijatović: The lack of media reduces much-needed transparency
It was pointed out that the lack of access to the border area for the media violates “seriously the freedom of expression and access to information, as well as restricts much-needed transparency”. This situation, as noted in the Communication, fuels disinformation and increases the sense of danger. According to Mijatović, “international organizations and civil society providing humanitarian and legal aid should be immediately and unlimitedly admitted to the entire border area and to all people who need help”.
“Journalists should be able to report from all over the area along the border, freely and safely,” added the Commissioner.
The communiqué also refers to the one adopted by the Sejm on Tuesday amendment to the act on the protection of the state borderas it entails the risk that “the emergency will become permanent with serious and long-term negative effects on the freedom of movement, expression and access to information”.
Commissioner Mijatović noted that the current legislation, which allows migrants to be pushed out of Poland if they cross the border beyond the official crossing, “undermines the right to seek asylum and its key guarantees, including the right to effective remedies.” “This has to be changed so that people who find themselves in Poland can start the asylum procedure and assess their individual situations in each case,” she said.
Mijatović: I heard terrifying accounts of people’s suffering
Mijatović, which in recent days she has visited border areas, in a statement, she described what she witnessed. “I have personally listened to terrifying reports of the suffering of desperate people – many of whom were families, children and elderly people – who spent weeks in extreme conditions in cold and wet forests due to the push back procedure,” we read.
“Every night and every hour spent in the border areas means a real threat to their lives” – she assessed. She drew attention to the emerging allegations of “ill-treatment, sexual violence and other abuses by Belarusian officials”, which also pose a threat to the migrants sent back to Belarus.
Mijatović on the “atmosphere of hatred and fear”
The Commissioner said she was delighted to see “the remarkable commitment of local human rights defenders, activists, lawyers and the Ombudsman, who, under difficult conditions and against the backdrop of adversities, race against time to save people”. “These selfless and brave people are at the forefront of bringing life-saving help to their neighbors. They are the bright side of this dramatic situation and should be supported both by Poland and all European countries” – the commissioner pointed out.
Mijatović added, however, that “There is a tangible atmosphere of hatred and fear that accompanies humanitarian aid to migrants and refugees.” “The repression, harassment and intimidation of those who provide aid, both inside and outside the state of emergency, must stop immediately. A deeply disturbing example of repression against humanitarian aid workers is an attack on the cars of volunteer medics providing first aid to people stranded at the border. These attacks must be prevented and investigated, and the perpetrators must be identified and brought to justice without delay, “stated Dunja Mijatović.
Finally, the Commissioner of the Council of Europe emphasized that coping with the current situation should not only fall on the shoulders of Poland. “This is a European issue that requires a human rights-based response, based on solidarity and European values and standards,” stressed the Commissioner.
The state of emergency at the border with Belarus
From September 2 – due to the migratory pressure in the border zone with Belarus – in 183 localities in the voivodeship In Podlasie and Lublin regions, a state of emergency is in force. It was introduced for 30 days under the ordinance of President Andrzej Duda issued at the request of the Council of Ministers. On September 30, the Seym agreed to extend the state of emergency for 60 days, and a day later the president’s decree in this matter was published.
Journalists do not have access to the area of the state of emergency, so they must rely on information from the government and services.
Main photo source: STRINGER / PAP / EPA