Poland illegally pushed migrants back into Belarus, Amnesty Int'l says

Polish border guard officers stand guard next to a group of migrants stranded on the border between Belarus and Poland near the village of Usnarz Gorny

By Alicja Ptak and Gabriela Baczynska

WARSAW/BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Poland carried out an unlawful pushback of a group of migrants camped out on its border with Belarus in late August, an analysis of satellite imagery and other photos and videos by NGO Amnesty International published on Thursday said.

Amnesty said that using satellite imagery from Aug. 18 it was able to detect the movement of these migrants from Polish territory back into Belarusian territory, shedding new light on their case, which has been difficult for NGOs and media to cover amid an ongoing Polish state of emergency along the border.

A Polish government spokesman and the interior ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

"Forcing people back who are trying to claim asylum without an individual assessment of their protection needs is against European and international law," said Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International's European institutions office.

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski met EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson in Warsaw late on Thursday and said afterwards: "We agreed that the actions of Belarus must meet with a firm response from the EU member states."

There was no immediate word after the Kaminski-Johansson meeting on the EU's request for Poland to allow the bloc's border guards to the frontier to help manage it and monitor the situation, including on human rights.

Poland and fellow EU countries Lithuania and Latvia have reported sharp increases in migrants from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq crossing their borders from Belarus, in what Warsaw and Brussels say is a form of hybrid warfare designed to put pressure on the EU over sanctions against Minsk.

Rights groups have criticised Poland's nationalist government over its treatment of migrants at the border, with accusations of multiple illegal pushbacks and failure to provide medical support as well as adequate food and shelter.

Polish border guards said four migrants died on the Polish side of the border in recent weeks. Belarusian officials said another person died just inside their territory.

Human rights groups and the media have not been able to access the border with Belarus since early September due to the state of emergency the Polish government was expected to extend by another 60 days starting on Thursday.

Among the thousands of migrants who have crossed into Poland since July, more than 30 have been stuck on the precipice of the Polish and Belarusian border since mid-August, with NGOs warning that many of them were in poor health and needed medical aid.

(Additional reporting by Alicja Ptak, Robin Emmott and John Cotton; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Howard Goller)