Polish wall has no deterrent effect on migrants en route from Africa, Cuba via Russia


  • A newly constructed steel wall crosses the border with Belarus
  • Be equipped with motion detectors and cameras
  • Some migrants still pass, through, under the wall
  • Border guard says most migrants now go through Russia first

KUZNICA, Poland, July 4 (Reuters) – Poland’s 5.5-meter-tall steel barrier, built on its border with Belarus, was meant to be a European version of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s wall, protecting the eastern border of the European Union from illegal immigration.

But the wall, which stretches for around 187 km (116 miles) and is expected to be equipped with motion detectors and cameras, may not be enough to stop the constant flow of people trying to cross Poland in the hope of ‘a better life.

The Hungarian nationalist government built its own border fence after the 2015 migration crisis to stem migration from Serbia. Thousands of migrants continue to cross, with the help of smugglers. Read more

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Sitting in the attic of a so-called ‘safe house’ just a few miles from the Polish wall to the north, Joel and Lisa, a 30-year-old married couple from Cuba, said they scaled the barrier overnight, arriving from Russia.

“It’s very difficult [to cross]but when you decide on something in life and you leave behind people who rely on you and your sacrifice, you have to do your best,” says Lisa, whose three children remained in Cuba. She declined to give her last name.

They moved to Russia on a student visa in April 2021 as they struggled to feed their families at home. They found employment in a tailor’s workshop in the town of Ivanova, but as the political situation in Russia grew tense due to the war in Ukraine, they decided to undertake the long journey to Spain via Belarus and Poland, to join their family members.

The couple wandered through the Polish forests for three days, before a local woman helped them find a place where they could rest for a few days. Lisa’s feet are still swollen from walking.

According to Grupa Granica, a coalition of non-governmental organizations and local activists who have helped people hiding in Polish forests, the wall has not stopped people from trying to enter Poland.

“It all depends on the weather. Now, when it’s hot, we get a lot of calls,” says Paulina Bownik, a doctor from Bielsk Podlaski, who since last August has provided medical aid to more than 300 people. “We have people in the woods all the time.”

PUSHING BACK MIGRANTS

Poland began building its steel border barrier in January after nearly 40,000 people, mostly from the Middle East and Afghanistan, attempted to cross from Belarus between August and January.

The Polish government also imposed an emergency zone near the border which neither doctors nor NGOs could enter and launched a campaign to push back migrants to Belarus. Critics say it sparked a humanitarian disaster, but Poland insists the moves were necessary in response to what it called provocations from Belarus.

He completed the wall last month, but according to local activists people are still going over, under or through it without the help of basic tools.

Between June 16 and 22, Grupa Granica received 132 calls for help from migrants wandering in the woods.

What has changed, however, is that most migrants use Russia to get to Europe, unlike last year when the majority came from the Middle East via Belarus, the Polish border guard said. .

“Virtually all the people now trying to cross the border illegally are from Russia, their journey was through Moscow. These are people who have often been granted student visas, although they have no intention of studying in Moscow,” said Anna Michalska, a spokeswoman. for the Polish border guard. She said there were a lot of sub-Saharan African nationals this year.

This year, the border guard recorded 5,859 attempts to enter Poland illegally from Belarus, compared to 39,269 between August and December 2021.

Some migrants end up in guarded or open migrant centers, while those who do not wish to apply for international protection in Poland are “informed of the obligation to leave the territory of Poland and sent back to the border”, the official said. border guard to Reuters. in an email response.

($1 = 4.5255 zlotys)

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Reporting by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska; Editing by Krisztina Than and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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