Polish border forces on Wednesday said they were attacked with stones by migrants at the border with Belarus and responded by using water cannons against them.
Thousands of migrants have fled to the border and are now stuck in makeshift camps
To date, there have been reports of 11 deaths
Migrants were reported to be throwing stones at Polish border guards who retaliated with a water cannon
Poland’s Defence Ministry also said that Belarusian forces tried to destroy fencing along the countries’ common border, while the Interior Ministry posted video apparently showing migrants trying to tear down a fence.
The Border Guard agency posted video on Twitter showing a water cannon being directed across the border at a group of migrants in a makeshift camp.
Polish police said one officer was seriously injured by the attack and was taken to hospital with what was likely a fractured skull.
The situation marks an escalation in a tense migration and political border crisis where the lives of thousands of migrants are at stake.
The border is also that of the European Union, which is accusing accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating a migration crisis at the border to pressure the bloc in relation to sanctions made against Mr Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime.
A large number of migrants are now at the border and stuck in a camp with temperatures falling to freezing at night.
Most are fleeing conflict, poverty or hopelessness in Syria and Iraq and hope to reach Germany or elsewhere in western Europe. To date there have been 11 deaths reported.
Poland takes a tough stance
Poland has taken a tough stand, reinforcing the border with riot police and troops, rolling out coils of razor wire and making plans to build a tall steel fence.
The Polish approach has largely met with approval from the West, with other EU countries keen to stop the arrival of another migration wave.
Yet Polish authorities have also been criticised for pushing migrants back across the border and not allowing them to apply for asylum.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday called the actions of Polish forces “absolutely unacceptable.”
Mr Lavrov charged that Polish forces “violate all conceivable norms of international humanitarian law and other agreements of the international community.”
However, Polish officials have said that Russia bears some responsibility for the crisis at the border given Moscow’s alliance with Belarus.
The Russian government has denied responsibility.
There was no way to independently verify what was happening because a state of emergency in Poland is keeping reporters and human rights workers out of the border area.
While in Belarus journalists face severe restrictions on their ability to report as well, with only a few present at the border.
State of emergency
The state of emergency was imposed at the beginning of September as a large number of migrants from the Middle East sought to cross into Poland from Belarus.
The EU has been putting pressure on airlines to stop transporting Syrians, Iraqis and others to Belarus and some have, including those in Turkey, while the Iraqi government stopped flight to Belarus and urged its citizens trapped at the border to return home.
Some 200 Iraqi nationals who arrived in Belarus with the intention of crossing into the EU reached out to the Iraqi embassy in Russia and expressed a desire to return to their homeland, an embassy spokesman told the Interfax agency on Tuesday.
The spokesman added that an evacuation flight will take place on Thursday and all those wishing to return to Iraq are already in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, awaiting the flight.
There were no issues with transporting the migrants from the border to Minsk, the diplomat told Interfax, and Belarusian authorities have provided all the necessary assistance.
With the crisis at the Polish border, the National Bank of Poland announced Monday that it would issue a collector’s coin and banknote devoted to the “Defence of the Polish Eastern Border.”