WARSAW, Poland (AP) — While Poland has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, third-country nationals fleeing the same conflict are not getting the same assistance, the U.N. special expert on migrants’ rights said Thursday.
Those affected include permanent residents of Ukraine, “undocumented” migrants and people who had sought asylum in Ukraine before the war forced them to flee again, Felipe González Morales told journalists during a virtual press conference where he presented his findings following a mission to Poland and Belarus earlier this month.
“This double standard approach has led to feelings of being discriminated,” he said.
González Morales commended Poland for hosting more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees, granting them permission to work, as well as access to health care, education and other public services. He also praised regular Poles who are hosting Ukrainians, most of whom are women and children, in their homes.
“This explains why I do not see refugee camps in Poland,” he said.
But González Morales also denounced the fact that access to abortion in Poland for women who survived rape in Ukraine was “virtually nonexistent in practice” despite it being permitted by Polish law.
While the war in Ukraine has shifted the spotlight, the visit by the U.N. special rapporteur to Poland and Belarus also focused on the situation at these two nations’ common border, where thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers became trapped starting last summer. At least 19 people have died on both sides of the border, according to González Morales’ findings, and many migrants remain missing.
The situation has improved significantly this year, but some migrants are still getting stranded in the border forest, González Morales said.
The EU accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants from Iraq, Syria and other nations as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian regime. Belarusian authorities denied orchestrating the crisis but González Morales said they presented no evidence to support their claims.
Belarus issued group visas for up to 30 people to Iraqi citizens on a regular basis in 2021, he said. In addition, Belarusian border guards had been fully aware of a group of 2,500 migrants approaching the border with Poland and did nothing about it.
On the Polish side of the border, migrants were rounded up and forcibly returned to Belarus without the ability to seek asylum, sometimes at night and despite harsh weather.
“Migrants are being pushed back and forth” still today, despite authorities on both sides denying it, González Morales said. Journalists, civil society groups and humanitarian organizations had very limited access to the border throughout the fall, winter and spring as Poland built a tall, steel wall to keep migrants out, making it difficult to verify the conditions of migrants at the border and claims of use of violence.
The U.N. report also found migrants and asylum-seekers, including pregnant women and children, being detained on both sides of the border, sometimes for weeks and months on end.
“There is a long catalog of human rights violated,” González Morales said.
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