The Polish government intends to further boost troop numbers on the border with Belarus amid a surge in the number of migrants and asylum seekers attempting to irregularly cross with the help of the Belarusian authorities.
The head of the border guard notes that this year has already seen more attempted crossings than the whole of 2022. He has requested that 1,000 additional soldiers be posted to the border, which would represent a 50% increase on current numbers.
Meanwhile, Belarus today announced that it was beginning military exercises involving tanks and drones close to the Suwałki Gap, a strategically important choke point between Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Belarus has started military exercises near the borders of Lithuania and Poland
The exercise is held near the Suwałki Gap.
„During the preparation, the experience of the war was actively used, namely, the extensive use of UAVs, close interaction of tank and motorized rifle… pic.twitter.com/BV3yFzvcv3
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) August 7, 2023
“There will be a much larger number of soldiers on the Polish-Belarusian border,” announced deputy interior minister Maciej Wąsik today at a press conference alongside Tomasz Praga, the head of the border guard.
Poland has already recently boosted its forces on the border following Belarus’s offer to host Wagner Group mercenaries after their short-lived rebellion in Russia.
Over the last two years, Poland has also erected a physical and electronic barrier along the border in response to attempted crossings by thousands of people, mostly from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, in a crisis orchestrated by the Belarusian authorities.
A group of Syrian and Iraqi asylum seekers – many of them children – are “trapped” on the Polish-Belarusian border, having faced violence in Belarus but unable to enter Poland, according to activists.
Poland’s human rights office has visited the group https://t.co/S0b9NqxEbd
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) May 29, 2023
“The migratory pressure on the Belarusian border continues to grow,” said Wąsik today. “Smugglers and the security services from Belarus and Russia are highly active in over 40 countries, because we have already recorded this many nationalities on the Polish-Belarusian border.”
Earlier on Monday, the Polish border guard announced that, in the previous 24 hours, 147 people had tried to illegally enter Poland, including Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Algerian nationals. It also noted that Uzbek citizens had been detained on the Polish side of the border transporting three Syrians.
Wąsik noted that aggression against Polish soldiers and border guards is increasing. He provided examples of attacks that have taken place, including an incident where an object fired from the Belarusian side broke the window of a Polish border guard vehicle.
“The nature of border crossings is changing, there are more and more attacks,” said the deputy minister. “Polish patrols are pelted with stones, firecrackers, bottles and branches every day.” The Belarusian border guard has damaged infrastructure at the border to allow migrants to cross into Poland, he added.
💬 Wiceminister @WasikMaciej w #MSWiA: Komendant Główny @Straz_Graniczna gen. dyw. SG Tomasz Praga wystąpił do @MON_GOV_PL o przesunięcie kolejnego tysiąca żołnierzy na granicę 🇵🇱-🇧🇾 w celu wsparcia działań funkcjonariuszy Straży Granicznej. pic.twitter.com/XTv1mboovq
— MSWiA 🇵🇱 (@MSWiA_GOV_PL) August 7, 2023
As a result of the growing pressures at the border, Praga has issued a request to the defence ministry for an additional 1,000 troops to be posted there. There are currently 2,000 soldiers supporting the border guard, reports the Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily.
“The Belarusian services that should protect the state border have become a criminal organisation that organises illegal migration and draws huge profits from it,” said the border guard chief. “Nothing takes place there without Minsk’s knowledge and consent.”
“This year, 19,000 people have made such attempts. Last year, it was less than 16,000. In July, we achieved a [monthly] record this year, as almost 4,000 people tried to get into Poland,” Praga explained.
Such figures, as Praga noted, are higher than last year though remain below the peak seen early on in the crisis in 2021. In October that year, almost 17,500 attempted crossings were recorded, with nearly 8,000 in September and close to 9,000 in November.
A German woman has been banned from Poland for five years for violating a ban on entering the area on the border with Belarus where the government recently built an anti-migrant wall.
She was part of a group of activists passing packages through the wall https://t.co/xGJpXoqn2z
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 2, 2023
Meanwhile, Belarus’s defence ministry announced today that it was launching military exercises involving a mechanised brigade in the Grodno region, which is located near the borders with Poland and Lithuania. The training will focus on the coordination of drones, tanks and mechanised infantry units.
The area on the border between Poland and Lithuania, known as the Suwałki Gap, is seen as a potential choke point for NATO forces in the case of an attack by Belarus and Russia.
Tensions there have increased following the arrival of Wagner forces in the area and last week’s incursion by Belarusian helicopters into Polish airspace.
Last week, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki met with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda in Suwałki, where he admitted that further provocations from Belarusian territory were to be expected in the coming days and weeks.
Two Belarusian helicopters yesterday entered Polish airspace, says Poland’s government, which condemned the “dangerous” incident.
Minsk denies the claims, but eyewitness accounts have also confirmed that the aircraft crossed the border https://t.co/1g7ICzVxIj
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 2, 2023
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Main image credit: MSWiA (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)
Anna Hackett is an assistant editor at Notes from Poland. She is a recent graduate of European Studies from Trinity College Dublin and has had previous journalistic experience with the Irish Independent News & Media group.