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Doctors Without Borders Leaves Polish-Belarusian Border Zone Without Reaching Migrants

Polish servicemen stand behind a barbed-wire fence on the Belarusian-Polish border as they watch migrants camping near the city of Hrodna in Belarus.

The international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says its teams have left Poland's border with Belarus after being repeatedly denied access by the Polish authorities to the migrants and refugees they went to help.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, said it spent three months seeking permission for its emergency response workers to enter the forested border zone where asylum seekers are reportedly stranded in freezing winter weather.

“Since October, MSF has repeatedly requested access to the restricted area and the border guard posts in Poland, but without success,” Frauke Ossig, the group's emergency coordinator for Poland and Lithuania, said in a statement on January 6.

The European Union accuses Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka of flying in migrants and funneling them to the borders of EU member states Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania to retaliate for sanctions the bloc imposed over a sweeping crackdown since last year’s disputed presidential election.

Poland has also taken steps in response to the migrant crisis, including building a barbed wire fence and massing thousands of soldiers along its 400-kilometer border with Belarus. Reporters and humanitarian workers need special permission to enter.

“We know that there are still people crossing the border and hiding in the forest, in need of support, but while we are committed to assisting people on the move wherever they may be, we have not been able to reach them in Poland,” Ossig said.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa