Clashes have erupted between stranded refugees and Polish border guards at the Polish-Belarusian border early on Tuesday.
According to Poland’s Ministry of National Defence (MOD), refugees at the Kuznica border crossing trying to cross into Poland reportedly threw stones at Polish guards, who responded by using water cannons and tear gas.
The MOD said: “The migrants attacked our soldiers and guards with stones and are trying to force the fence to get to the Polish territory.
“Our forces used tear gas to thwart the aggression of migrants.”
Marta Szymanderska from Grupa Granica, a coalition of NGOs that are responding to the humanitarian crisis at the border said “The use of force [by Poland] is completely unjustifiable because there are legal procedures which should be used from the very beginning. The actions of the Polish forces are not only illegal but also inhuman.”
It was unclear if there were any injuries among refugees, while at least one policeman was wounded.
The Polish Border Guard said: “Illegal migrants have been gathering at the border crossing in Kuźnica, at the Belarusian side. New groups, which so far have been squatting at the border, are joining them. An attempt to forcefully cross the border is being prepared. Everything is taking place under the supervision of Belarusian forces.”
Earlier on Tuesday, more Polish police and security forces arrived at the border to prevent what Polish authorities claimed was an attempt by refugees to illegally cross into Polish – and European Union – territory.
Video footage posted on social media showed people near the border running away after being sprayed with water cannons.
The situation appeared calmer by the afternoon.
Thousands of refugees are trapped in a no-man’s land between the Polish and Belarusian borders as a result of an East-West geopolitical crisis involving Warsaw and its allies, and Minsk and Moscow.
According to international law, people seeking asylum have the right to claim it at official border crossings.
However, Polish border guards have been denying that right to many who have attempted to cross the border.
Since the crisis unfolded in August, Polish guards have reportedly been pushing back people who managed to cross into Polish territory from Belarus.
Many refugees are spending weeks in the woodlands at the border, trying to leave the border zone and seek asylum.