Human Lives Human Rights: A digital investigation by the Rights group has revealed previously unknown details about the situation facing 32 Afghan refugees, including four women, 27 men and one 15-year-old girl, who are trapped on the border between Poland and Belarus without food, clean water, shelter and medicine since at least 18 August.
Using satellite imagery and photographs to measure the area and 3D reconstruction, Amnesty International has established the group’s position on the border and found that in late August their position had shifted overnight from Poland to Belarus, in what appears an unlawful forced return.
Reconstruction of the Rights Group shows that on 18 August, many of the 32 people, who had entered Poland from Belarus, were on the Polish side of the border, surrounded by Polish border forces. However, one day later they were back on the Belarusian side of the border.
This movement could constitute evidence of an unlawful pushback because it appears that the movement occurred as armed Polish border guards surrounded the refugees’ makeshift camp.
Poland has been cruelly holding this group of people on their border in horrendous conditions for weeks. The analysis showed their position shifted from Poland to Belarus overnight, which strongly suggests that they were victims of an unlawful pushback.
The interim measures granted by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on 25 August, and subsequently extended on 27 September, instruct Poland to provide the group with assistance, including “adequate food, water, clothing, medical care and, if possible, temporary shelter”.
The ECtHR also indicate that the group of Afghans claimed they had previously entered Polish territory on 8 August and been pushed back. Poland has so far failed to comply with the interim measures.
“State of emergency”
Since the event, the group has remained trapped between Polish and Belarusian borders guards. Poland has restricted movement in the area and introduced rules, on 20 August, allowing for people intercepted at the border to be returned to the border with Belarus.
On 2 September, Poland declared a “state of emergency” at its borders with Belarus, limiting journalists and NGOs from accessing the area.
The “state of emergency” has prevented the oversight of potential human rights violations, raising concerns about the treatment of refugees and migrants in the area, including the unlawful return of other people back across the border to Belarus.
Since 19 September, five people have died in the border area, including as a result of hypothermia. The dire situation facing the Afghans on the border is one that the Polish government has created.
The declaration of ‘the state of emergency’ is illegitimate and must be lifted. The situation at the country’s borders does not constitute a public emergency by European and international definitions.
Forcing back people who are trying to claim asylum without an individual assessment of their protection needs is contrary to international and EU law. The introduction of new laws and measures that attempt to legalize pushbacks do nothing to change that.
To evaluate the situation on the Poland-Belarus border, Amnesty International’s Evidence Lab collected and analysed cross-border satellite imagery and more than 50 videos and photographs of incidents on the border since 12 August.
The images confirm the group’s movements and the increased securitization of the border in recent weeks. The images came from numerous sources, such as local people and press, and included helicopter footage and satellite imagery – all of which was then analysed and verified.
Using photogrammetry and photo-matching to reconstruct 3D models, Amnesty International was able to verify the group’s position on the border, confirm the suspected pushback between 18 and 19 August and the location of the group between 12 August and 13 September. It also exposed the inhumane conditions in the makeshift camp that the group is being forced to live in.
Now the Rights groups call on the Poland’s government to end pushbacks, and urgently provide adequate shelter, food, water, sanitary facilities, access to lawyers and medical care to the group of Afghans stranded at the Poland-Belarus border.
Poland should also repeal the state of emergency and laws limiting movement in the border area, and grant unhindered access to journalists, activists, NGOs and lawyers.