The human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Belarus and Poland of “serious human rights abuses” against migrants in the border area between the two countries. “While Belarus created this situation regardless of the consequences for the people, Poland shares responsibility for the acute suffering in the border area,” said Lydia Gall of HRW on Wednesday. Belarusian border guards may also have used torture against migrants.

According to the organization, it spoke to 19 people, some of whom were “pushed back by Polish border officials, sometimes by force”. This approach violates European asylum law. The EU must “show solidarity with the victims on the border who suffer and die”.

In Belarus “violence, inhuman and degrading treatment and coercion” by Belarusian border officials are “omnipresent”. The practice could “in some cases” be viewed as “torture”, contrary to the country’s international legal obligations. Both Poland and Belarus have “an obligation to avoid further deaths by ensuring humanitarian access to people stranded in the border area”.

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The EU accuses the Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko of having lured migrants to Belarus under false promises in order to smuggle them illegally into the EU. Thousands of people are currently stuck in the border area with Poland. According to Brussels, Lukashenko wants to take revenge for EU sanctions. The Belarusian head of state rejects the allegations.

Belarus has now started returning migrants. According to the Interior Ministry, more than 100 people left the country via Minsk Airport on Tuesday. The interior ministry representative left the question of the destinations of the flights unanswered. He said, however, that several countries’ embassies – including Syria and Iraq – are organizing return flights for citizens who are “in a difficult situation”.

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EU representatives travel to Minsk for “technical talks” on the repatriation of migrants from the Polish-Belarusian border area. The meeting “has nothing to do with recognition of the regime and has nothing to do with negotiations,” stressed EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell at a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday. “But we have to keep the communication channels open.”

A delegation from the European External Action Service should therefore consult with Minsk on how returns can be facilitated.

The EU is divided over possible contacts with Lukashenko. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) had phoned Lukashenko twice last week. This was sharply criticized by Poland and the exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya. (AFP)

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