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Poland seeks to extend state of emergency on Belarus border amid criticism over migrants deaths

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By AP, AFP with Euronews
Polish forces stand guard in an area near the border with Belarus in Usnarz Gorny, Poland, on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021.
Polish forces stand guard in an area near the border with Belarus in Usnarz Gorny, Poland, on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021.   -   Copyright  Czarek Sokolowski/AP

Poland will seek an extension of the state of emergency in force along its border with Belarus as Brussels slammed recent deaths of migrants as "completely unacceptable."

European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson on Monday called for "transparency" from Warsaw, expressing her concern after five people died on the Polish-Belarusian border.

The governments of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia accuse the Moscow-backed regime in Belarus of encouraging illegal migration into their countries by people from the Middle East and Africa in order to sow divisions and chaos within the European Union.

Poland has reacted by reinforcing the borders with soldiers and razor wire to stop the attempted entries.

"We must help Poland to protect its borders, but it is also important to prevent people losing their lives at these borders and these are issues we must discuss, "Johansson told reporters.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski told reporters Monday that Poland has recorded 9,400 attempts to illegally cross the Polish border from Belarus since August, with 8,200 of them being foiled. He said about 1,200 people are being held in detention centres after being caught attempting to illegally enter Poland.

He presented the findings of Poland's special services, which alleged that the phones of some of those detained show evidence of them having a criminal past, including ties to terrorist organisations, and in some cases longstanding ties to Russia.

The materials “suggest that Russia is emerging as more and more important point on the illegal migratory route to Poland and the European Union. Some of the detainees had photos documenting their long-standing relationship with Russia,” a statement from the special services said.

It said the presence of such individuals in Poland “may pose a serious national security threat.”

It was not possible to verify the claims.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak accused Belarusian forces of provocative actions, including firing shots into the air and aiming guns at Polish soldiers.

“Incidents are being provoked at the border that may lead to very tense situations,” Blaszczak said.

The interior minister said he will recommend that the government prolong the state of emergency along the border. It was declared in early September for 30 days and Kaminski said he wants to see it extended for another 60 days.

The state of emergency and other tough actions by the government in the face of the increased migration are largely popular with Poles. Yet, with reports of people being stranded for weeks and five confirmed migrant deaths in the border area, human rights activists say the response by authorities is inhumane.

Rights workers say the migrants are fleeing war or poverty at home and should be treated humanely. They view the state of emergency as unjustified, noting that it allows the authorities to act without any oversight in the border area.