Poland begins construction of a wall on its border with Belarus

KUZNICA, Poland (AP) — Poland has begun building a $394 million wall on its eastern border meant to keep migrants pushed by Belarus, in what the European Union calls a “hybrid attack,” from entering illegally on EU territory.

Journalists were allowed to view the work in the guarded area on Thursday.

Pressure by thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa on Poland and Lithuania’s forested border with Belarus began this summer, leading to clashes with Polish border guards. Poland sealed its border with Belarus with barbed wire and increased the number of guards. International efforts have been made to warn migrants seeking to enter the EU from Belarus. Migrants head mainly to Germany.

EU says migrants are being used by the authoritarian Belarusian leader to destabilize the 27-member bloc in retaliation for Western sanctions on Minsk following an election internationally seen as rigged and a crackdown on the opposition.

At least 12 migrants have died in the bogs and forests of the border area and conditions have worsened with winter temperatures below freezing.

Poland’s 5.5-meter (18-foot) high metal wall topped with barbed wire must run more than 180 kilometers (115 miles) along the land part of the border with Belarus, which also includes the Bug River as a border. Two construction companies have to work there around the clock, starting from four different locations. It is expected to be completed in June, at a cost of some 1.6 billion zlotys ($394 million).

The work comes at a time when European nations are debating whether to strengthen external border protection and regulations for returning migrants without permission to stay in their countries of origin, if the countries are safe.

Critics and environmentalists say the wall will fail to stop migrants, but will harm one of Europe’s last primeval forests, the Bialowieza Forest.

Natalia Gebert of Grupa Granica (The Border Group), which helps migrants and asylum seekers in Poland, says the group is “absolutely against” the wall.

“The wall only stops the handicapped, the weak, the sick. That doesn’t stop desperate people fleeing danger from trying to cross,” Gebert told The Associated Press.

She said that in the first three weeks of 2022, the group had received requests for help from nearly 350 people, including 51 children.

Kalina Czwarnog of the Ocalenie (Deliverance) Foundation said money for the wall could be better spent managing migration in a “humanitarian way and in accordance with international law”.

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