Hundreds of NGOs and public figures call on Tusk to stop migrant pushbacks at Belarus border

A group of 101 NGOs and 550 activists, artists and academics have called on Poland’s new prime minister, Donald Tusk, to end the previous government’s practice of sending back migrants who have irregularly crossed the border from Belarus.

In the open letter, the signatories, which include several leading human rights organisations, call such so-called “pushbacks” a “gross violation of human rights” that have “no humanitarian, moral or legal justification”.

They note that the pushbacks – which had been ruled unlawful by Polish courts – can deprive those crossing the border of the possibility to apply for asylum.  “In many cases, this practice is accompanied by violence and aggression,” they add.

Wanda Traczyk-Stawska, Ewa Woydyłło-Osiatyńska, Adam Strzembosz, Ludwika Wujec, Maja Komorowska i wiele, wiele innych osób apeluje do Donalda Tuska o wstrzymanie wywózek na granicy polsko-białoruskiej @m_chrzczonowicz

— (@oko_press) January 9, 2024

“The punishment to which Poland condemns migrants for irregular border crossings by forcibly returning them to Belarus is exceptionally cruel,” wrote the group. “On the Belarusian side, torture, violence, inhumane treatment and unlawful imprisonment in the system await them.”

“Pushbacks must stop immediately,” they declared. “By postponing putting an end to this practice, the Polish authorities are condoning human rights violations. This is not how we imagine the rule of law promised to us.”

Signatories to the letter include NGOs working to help migrants, such as Grupa Granica and Fundacja Ocalenie, as well as human rights groups including Polish Humanitarian Action, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and Amnesty International Poland.

Individual signatories included Warsaw uprising veteran Wanda Traczyk-Stawska and Agnieszka Holland, the filmmaker who last year made a highly acclaimed movie about the migrant crisis on the Belarusian border.

A court has banned the justice minister from likening director Agnieszka Holland and her new film Green Border to Nazi propaganda while she sues him for making such a comparison.

He has condemned the decision as an „assault on free speech”

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 27, 2023

Tusk’s government, which took office last month, has pledged to restore the rule of law following eight years of rule by the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party. Leading figures in the new ruling coalition have also called for a more humane approach at the Belarus border.

“Pushbacks must be ended; they are illegal and inhumane” said Szymon Hołownia, leader of Poland 2050 (Polska 2050), one of the parties that makes up Tusk’s coalition, in November.

Last month, Hołownia invited homeless people and migrants, including people who had entered Poland over the border with Belarus, to a Christmas event in parliament. His decision won the praise of some but also sparked criticism, including from many politicians, journalists and other commentators.

The speaker of parliament has faced criticism after posing for a photo at a Christmas event he hosted with people who entered Poland over the border with Belarus.

„This is an invitation to illegally cross the Polish border,” said an opposition politician

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 23, 2023

Earlier this week, Tusk said that the government was working on a new strategy that would both protect the border but also ensure that situations where people “die in Polish forests” do not occur.

However, he added that he is “deliberately not talking about pushbacks, as this term is often misused in describing various techniques and methods of stopping irregular migration at the border”.

Since 2021, tens of thousands of migrants and refugees – mostly from the Middle East, Asia and Africa – have tried to cross with the help of the Belarusian authorities, in what Polish and European authorities have labelled a “hybrid attack” on the EU.

An internal border guard report shows the scale of attempted crossings by migrants – mostly from Asia and the Middle East – into Poland from Belarus.

Over twice as many were detected in 2023 as in 2022, with those who crossed then seeking to reach Germany

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 2, 2024

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Main image credit: Irek Dorozanski/DWOT (under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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