Doctors Without Borders leaves Poland-Belarus frontier after being blocked from assisting refugees
Medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has withdrawn from the Polish-Belarus border after being denied access to the area to treat migrants and refugees by Polish authorities, the organisation said in a statement Thursday.
MSF said it had been "repeatedly blocked" by Polish authorities from accessing the border region, where groups of migrants and refugees are trying to survive the cold winter in dire humanitarian conditions.
"Since October, MSF has repeatedly requested access to the restricted area and the border guard posts in Poland, but without success," Frauke Ossig, MSF emergency coordinator for Poland and Lithuania, said in the statement.
"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."
Thousands of people have attempted to cross into the European Union on foot from Belarus since June 2021, through Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The European Union accuses Belarus of flying people in from the Middle East and pushing them to cross into the EU member states, in retaliation for the bloc's sanctions imposed on Minsk over President Alexander Lukashenko's crushing of protests in Belarus.
In response, Poland has tightly controlled and militarised its side of the border. Human rights watchdogs have accused both Poland and Belarus of committing human rights abuses against migrants.
Many of the migrants and refugees who have tried to cross the border have gone into hiding because they fear they will be pushed back illegally by Polish guards. They live in the forest in extreme winter temperatures without food, water, shelter or warm clothes. MSF says at least 21 people died at the border in 2021.
"As long as impartial, non-governmental humanitarian groups cannot reach these people to provide them with water, food, warm clothing and medical care, the number of deaths will likely increase as temperatures continue to drop," MSF warned.