WARSAW, POLAND (AP) – Polish officials on Thursday reported a change in migration patterns across the country’s border with Belarus, with Africans who first travelled to Russia making up most of those seeking to enter Poland illegally by that route instead of people from the Mideast.
The government said the African migrants include individuals passing through Russia, a close ally and another neighbour of Belarus, as well as people who were in Russia for a longer period.
In an emailed statement to The Associated Press, the Polish government described the migration as part of a “hybrid operation aimed at destabilising the NATO eastern flank”.
Migrants and asylum-seekers have tried to cross from Belarus into Poland and Lithuania, and to a lesser extent Latvia, since last summer.
The three nations are in the east of both European Union (EU) and NATO territory.
The countries have sought to discourage the attempted crossings, detaining migrants and pushing them back into Belarus. Poland recently completed a tall steel wall along 186 kilometres of its land frontier with Belarus.
Human rights organisations have criticised Poland and Lithuania, saying the migrants include people fleeing persecution who have the right under international law to request asylum.
European leaders accuse Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of creating a new and artificial migration route in order to destabilise the EU. The government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said it believes Russia bears some responsibility too, given its alliance with Lukashenko.
Early on, most of the people who tried to enter the EU from Belarus were Afghans, Syrians, Kurds from Iraq and others from the Middle East. After the arrival of large numbers last summer, the EU intervened, including by getting Iraq to stop the flights, and the migration flow slowed.
It never stopped altogether, but the situation became overshadowed by the far larger numbers of Ukrainian refugees who were welcomed in Poland in February.
The National Security Department within the prime minister’s office told AP that current Border Guard statistics show that the vast majority of migrants who seek to illegally cross at the Poland-Belarus border now come from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Border Guard data shows that there were 914 attempts to cross illegally from Belarus into Poland in July.