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24 Aug, 2021 15:33

UN urges Poland to take in Afghan & Iraqi refugees fleeing to EU through Belarus, as Warsaw's officials turn back asylum seekers

UN urges Poland to take in Afghan & Iraqi refugees fleeing to EU through Belarus, as Warsaw's officials turn back asylum seekers

The United Nations' refugee agency, the UNHCR, has blasted Poland for locking out refugees escaping war-torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, as the EU accuses neighboring Belarus of funneling asylum seekers to its borders.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the international human rights body expressed concern over reports that Warsaw was turning away desperate people seeking safety in the country. Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right, safeguarded by both EU and international refugee law, UN officials insisted.

The agency said that it calls on the government of Poland to ensure that people from Iraq and Afghanistan wishing to seek international protection have access to territory and asylum in Poland, in line with international obligations accepted by the country.

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Speaking last year when the issue of Poland's acceptance of asylum seekers was last raised, Anne-Marie Deutschlander, UNHCR's acting regional Director for Europe, argued that "people fleeing war, violence and persecution need protection. Refusal to grant them entry at the border, without properly assessing their claims, is in dichotomy with the country's obligations."

The news comes hours after the Polish government announced that it plans to fortify the border with Belarus, over which a steady stream of refugees have been flowing in recent weeks. Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak revealed earlier on Tuesday that the country would build a fence "two and a half meters high," and that work on installing it would begin this week. More than 1,000 soldiers have been deployed to help border guards patrol the 418-kilometer frontier.

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EU leaders have accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's government of flying in vulnerable people from countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, bussing them to the border with neighboring nations and refusing to allow them to turn back. According to officials, this constitutes the deliberate "weaponization" of refugees in an effort to sow discord among members of the bloc, in response to sanctions imposed on Minsk.

Lithuania has already begun building a border wall with the Eastern European nation, and Poland, along with the Baltic states, have urged the UN to take action over the "hybrid war" they say is being waged on their countries. In May, after another round of EU sanctions, Lukashenko said Belarus would no longer prevent refugees from making it to its neighbors' borders.

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