Poland says it will build a fence on its border with its eastern neighbor Belarus to stem a flow of migrants that European officials say is being driven by Minsk in retaliation for sanctions against the regime of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
"A new, 2.5 m high, solid fence will be built on the border with Belarus. More soldiers will be involved in helping the Border Guard. Soon I will present details of the further involvement of the Polish Armed Forces,” Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak wrote on Twitter on August 23.
The announcement comes as Poland and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania urged the United Nations to take action against Belarus for allegedly encouraging migrants to cross illegally into the European Union.
They called Minsk's actions a "hybrid attack" on the bloc in retaliation for sanctions over Lukashenka’s crackdown on the country's pro-democracy movement following a disputed presidential election in August 2020.
In recent months thousands of migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere have crossed from Belarus into Lithuania alone, but neighboring EU member states have also seen increases in illegal crossings.
Poland has said it had deployed hundreds of troops to its border with Belarus to help border guards cope with a surge of migrants.
Lithuania said it would complete a 508-kilometer fence along its border with Belarus by September 2022.
In many cases, Belarusian authorities reportedly push the migrants back toward the EU border, which Lukashenka has denied, leading to several stand-offs.
Poland's government has come under criticism from human rights advocates over the plight of a group of migrants -- reportedly Afghans -- trapped for two weeks between Polish and Belarusian border guards near the village of Usnarz Gorny.
Warsaw says that allowing the migrants to enter his country would encourage further illegal migration and would play into Lukashenka's hands.
"These are not refugees, they are economic migrants brought in by the Belarusian government," Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told reporters.
Meanwhile, Belarus’s state-run BelTA news agency quoted Lukashenka as telling a session of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) that "Poland created a border conflict and violated the Belarusian state border" by sending migrants back to Belarus’s territory.
In a joint statement, the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland said that the influx of migrants had been "planned and systematically organized" by Lukashenka’s regime.
"It is high time to bring the issue of abusing migrants on the Belarusian territory to the attention of the UN, including the United Nations Security Council," the statement said, urging the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to “take active steps to facilitate the solution of this situation."
"Weaponizing refugees and immigrants threatens the regional security of the European Union and constitutes a grave breach of human rights," according to the four prime ministers.
They said their countries were "ready to provide all necessary protection to persons who enter our countries on conditions under the international refugee law" but would also call for "possible new restrictive measures by the EU to prevent any further illegal immigration orchestrated by the Belarusian state."
In an opinion piece published in The New York Times on August 23, Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya called for increased support against Lukashenka, saying his autocratic regime threatens to spread chaos across Europe.